This week marks the latest installment in City Paper's ongoing series "After Riley" presented in conjunction with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com. In it, candidates have been asked to answer a series of questions regarding culture, commerce, and livability. Candidates have responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers.
The series will culminate on Sept. 30 with a forum put on by these organizations. The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP at YourCharleston.org.
Recognizing the significant role tourism plays in Charleston, City Council recently approved an update to the Tourism Management Plan, but many of the objectives and tenants are already behind schedule. What is your opinion of the plan and how would you ensure the timely implementation?
Our city has become a top tourist destination because we are one of the most beautiful, interesting, and vibrant cities in the world. If we are not thoughtful and deliberate in our planning, Charleston could become a victim of our own success. And part of that planning is the recently updated Tourism Management Plan. I think it's great, but the timeline is too slow. For example, the plan recommends that we study — for three years— moving the Visitor Center to the northern part of the peninsula. And study the feasibility of a trolley and/or bus system for two to three years. I'm tired of all the studies. As mayor, I'll think big and get stuff done — moving more quickly. Recently, it seems like there is a fight between neighborhoods, businesses, and the city on almost every project. I believe this is caused by stakeholders feeling like they get too little information too late. We can turn this around quickly by improving processes and making use of technology to allow full and real-time transparency. I have a track record of bringing people together to get stuff done and I'll bring this approach to the mayor's office.
The Tourism Management Advisory Committee and subcommittee with citizen input has provided updates to the Charleston Tourism Management Plan that I support. Its Charter for Sustainable Tourism outlines a set of principles "to ensure that tourism meets environmental requirements as well as economic expectations and respects visitors to our city, but also the social and physical structure of Charleston and the local population." As a city councilman, I must monitor the process for timely implementation of the plan. As mayor, I will continue to adopt the principles as outlined therein.
The Tourism Management Plan and the update are crucial road maps. But all of the goals identified are going to exceed a four-year period. As mayor, I would start with moving and redoing the Visitor Center, the tax on cruise visitors, the park-and-ride shuttle system, and anything related to signage, development of mobile apps, and encouraging bike traffic.
I have always been a strong supporter of our tourism industry. I have worked very closely over the years with leaders in the tourism and hospitality industry in Charleston to make sure state and local governments are doing everything they can to create a tourism-friendly business environment and that Charleston receives the necessary resources from the state to promote our area. This partnership has taken Charleston from a sleepy Southern town to the top tourist destination in the world. The next mayor will be not only tasked with maintaining that wonderful reputation but also building on it. As Charleston's tourism economy is ever-changing, the city must continue to update our tourism plan as well. The city's Tourism Management Plan was written by a diverse representation of tourism leaders and residents, and I support the full implementation of it. Timely implementation of the most recent update to the tourism plan is dependent partly on the availability of funding for some of the recommendations, such as additional tourism enforcement officers, and, to a greater extent, the staff time needed to handle some of the other recommendations. I am committed to the plan's implementation and continued review so that we protect both our tourism industry and the wonderful Charleston neighborhoods our tourists love to visit.
Yes, I do support full implementation of the Tourism Management Plan, including its calls for better cruise ship regulation, a review of carriage and tour bus activities, improved coordination of special events, more and better signage, additional parking further up the peninsula, and more. With regard to your specific question on ensuring its timely implementation, I will both A) Make it a top-level priority in my administration, and B) Use the performance audit I plan to conduct during my first year in office as a yardstick to measure our progress along the way.
While tourism is vital to Charleston's economy, we must forever be mindful that tourists by the millions come here to admire a way of life that has been nearly abandoned elsewhere in America. We've done an amazing job creating a Charleston that people from all over the world want to visit. Now is the time to focus on the people who live here every day. I support the recently approved updates to the Tourism Management Plan, and it will be one of my top priorities to push forward the updated objectives. I will do this by immediately convening a series of civic engagement meetings with the Tourism Management Advisory Committee, neighborhood residents, business community, and tourism industry to discuss and act on all appropriate recommendations identified in the updated Tourism Management Plan.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Responses have been placed in alphabetical order.