Preserving Charleston’s urban core was the main topic of discussion during the presentation of the city’s 90-day hotel study at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Conducted by the Planning Department, traffic engineers, and the College of Charleston Office of Tourism Analysis, the study is intended to guide city officials in deciding how best to manage Charleston’s booming hotel industry.
There are currently 4,930 hotel rooms existing or under construction on the peninsula, with an additional 731 rooms recently approved. According to Jacob Lindsey with the city’s Planning Department, Charleston saw a plummet in the number of new hotels added between 2003-2012, which led to pent-up demand and the current spike in construction. The city saw 400 new hotel rooms added in 2015 and more than 1,300 rooms are expected to pop up over the next four years. With this increase in mind, Lindsey says Charleston has to be careful of not reaching a tipping point in terms of development downtown. Currently, the city averages about 14 hotel rooms per 100 residents, ranking alongside San Francisco, but as that number changes, so too does the makeup of a city.
“We are in kind of a middle group with San Francisco and Virginia Beach, where we are kind of low, but we don’t want to tip into the Savannah, New Orleans, Old Quebec City category where we become a true tourist destination with less real urbanism,” said Lindsey. “This gives us pause that, in fact, we need to be very vigilant about what we are doing.”
City Council will receive a finalized draft of the study’s findings and are expected to discuss any possible changes to Charleston’s ordinances in June. The key findings of the study included recommendations to require hotels to provide more parking or transportation options for employees. Examples of this include discounted parking rates for workers, as well as designated remote parking lots with transit services to their place of employment. In addition to providing access to parking, the study also presents a few possible restrictions for hotel developers hoping to set up shop on the peninsula.
“We know we need to do more to achieve a balance of uses downtown. That means we don’t want to become just a tourist destination. We’re considering a prohibition of the displacement of offices and ground-level retail,” said Lindsey. “So on King Street and our main walking streets, a hotel could not come in, buy what used to be a storefront, and turn it into just a hotel lobby. They need to maintain the great walking character of our main commercial streets.”