In Feb. 2007, The Post & Courier's David Slade wrote an article entitled "A New Vision." Its focus: "a wave of redevelopment" that was "breaking over Upper King and Meeting streets in Charleston. New shops, offices and hundreds of hotel rooms and residential units are on the way." They called it the Midtown project.
I, along with others, worried that Midtown was going to be the "nail in the coffin" for the Eastside. But then the recession hit and froze everything. Today, the development is back. And once again, if its impact isn't mitigated, it will be deadly to the Eastside's culture and heritage.
Four significant projects have gone through the public approval process under the radar. In fact, the Eastside Community Development Corporation was not aware of the approvals until after the fact. In response, the ECDC has put measures in place to ensure this does not happen again. They will be working with the City of Charleston's Planning and Neighborhoods Department and Councilman Robert Mitchell to ensure there is flow of information between developers and the community concerning potential requests that may affect the Eastside
The Eastside Community Development Corporation has also initiated a process to work out a mitigation and community-development agreement with developer, and they have asked the City to help them in this effort. Why have they initiated this process? It is the ECDC's responsibility to make them act in the best interests of the Eastside community. Remember power never concedes without a struggle. Frederick Douglas said it over 100 years ago, and nothing has changed since then.
Now here are my suggestions to the ECDC and Councilman Mitchell concerning how the Eastside can mitigate the Midtown's negative impact on the folks on the Eastside. Since this deal has little to no public money involved, they will have to appeal to the developer's moral sense of responsibility. Of course, this only goes for the projects that have slipped by in the public approval process. Future projects will face full scrutiny as it relates to negative community impacts and their mitigation. The ECDC, Mitchell, and the City must get the developers to engage in a discussion to establish a development agreement, and please don't make it like the one former Councilman Jimmy Gallant set up for the Neck area or else we will be wasting our time.
The development agreement needs to be similar to the one set up over in Daniel Island. Did you know that for every residential and commercial property sold, money is put into a fund for affordable housing in the Cainhoy area. Residents have gotten their houses repaired and in some cases they received new homes. This is the direction they must move in. More specifically, they should establish the following guidelines for an agreement with the developer:
1. There should be a fund established to help senior citizens with the tax burden they will experience.
2. The developers should compensate for the loss of affordable housing by contributing to a fund for the building of more affordable housing on the Eastside.
3. The developers should compensate for negative impacts to social and medical institutions such as the Franklin C. Fetter Community Family Health Center and the churches and non-profits running social programs in the impacted area.
4. Minority businesses and laborers on the Eastside should get a shot at working on the construction and post-construction phases of the project.
This is just a beginning of the discussion. The Midtown development — and those that come after it — do not have to be the "nail in the coffin" for the Eastside. These developments can be the catalyst for the Eastside's sustainability. There are other ideas out there, and through a frank discussion with developers, residents, and community leaders, a decent resolution can be developed. Without it, the culture of downtown's urban Gullahs will disappear.
Kwadjo Campbell's firm JC & Associates is working pro-bono as an economic development and planning consultant to the Eastside Community Development Corporation.