7 Serious Issues with the Charleston Lifestyle

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Even paradise has cracks and pitfalls.? There is no such thing as the perfect place.? We all want to believe that.? We are Charleston of course; an Instagrammer, Foodie Blogger, wedding and fashion haven.? Keep in mind, all that has a nice marketing spin of money and beautiful people.? Peel a layer back on this onion and you may begin to cry.

There are a number of concerns masked behind this elegant ballroom dance.? Many adversely affect us every day.

Let us examine 7 defining areas of concern that put the Charleston lifestyle in jeopardy

  • Education Funding – $6.6 Million of a $480 Million dollar budget was set aside for education spending in Charleston County in the 2017 budget (1.4%).? Given the higher than national average growth of 45 – 55 new residents daily, overcrowding of classrooms, under funding of teacher salaries and even cookie cutter trailers being built for extra classroom space, this is a situation that seems to be getting worse and needs immediate attention and funding.
  • Charleston voted the worst city to start a small business – The Charleston, South Carolina, metropolitan area comes in as the number one least-favorable place to start a small business for a number of reasons. In the first place, office rents are a sky-high $23.60 per square foot, well above the national average of $17.15 per square foot. Second, housing costs are above the national average for both renters (median monthly rent is $975 versus $803 nationally) and owners ($1,367 versus $1,217). Third, public transit is infrequent and underutilized, with only 1 percent of Charleston area commuters using public transportation. And finally, the area business ownership rate is below average, in the 8th percentile, with a very low percentage of startups (0.89 percent), and a below average five-year survival rate of 48.32 percent.
  • Talent Supply Issues – Charleston was just ranked #4 for best place to start a career for entry level graduates.? Yet, as a footnote to that study, we were ranked #1 in the nation for most job openings per 100,000 residents.? That is a potential economic disaster for this community if we begin to become less reliant on hospitality and tourism and begin to grow our business presence.? We need to address the requirement of more skilled labor and how we will identify them both locally and nationally.
  • Taxation – Charleston County has the highest taxation of any county in South Carolina at 9% (6% State and 3% Local) and one of the highest in the country.? Let us add on top, the burden locals face dining out.? Restaurant food tax is 10.5% and restaurant alcohol tax is as high as 16.5%.? These taxation rates may not put a strain on a tourist that is here for 4 days, but for the local community living here all year, it weighs heavy.
  • Gun Violence – In 2014, South Carolina had the 10th worst firearm mortality rate in the United States with 15.5 deaths per population of 100,000.? In 2011, South Carolina was ranked 15th in raw firearm deaths with 223 of the 8583 in the United States.? 70% of all murders in the state that year were a result of a firearm.? In 2014, 764 deaths in the state were by the use of a firearm.? In a July, 2017 article, the Post & Courier indicated, “On an average week between 1999 and 2014, a dozen?people were fatally shot in South Carolina. Nearly 10,000 lives were lost to homicides, suicides and accidents involving guns.? Then, in 2015, 16 died every week — 841 by the year’s end —?the highest toll of gun deaths for the Palmetto State since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started tracking it.”

The top 10 worst states? in firearm death rate in 2014 were:

  • Louisiana – 18.9
  • Alaska – 18.8
  • Mississippi – 18.0
  • Alabama – 16.7
  • Arkansas – 16.4
  • Wyoming – 16.0
  • Montana – 15.8
  • New Mexico – 15.8
  • Oklahoma – 15.6
  • South Carolina – 15.5

Source:? http://wonder.cdc.gov

  • Tourism First / Locals Second – The annual occupancy rate of hotels in Charleston/North Charleston in 2017 was 75.5%.? If you focus just on downtown Charleston, that number is over 92%.? To compare, Myrtle Beach sat at 53.3%.? The number do not lie, tourism is a critical part of our economic success, but at what cost?? Many say, the barrage of cranes and construction vehicles corrupting our town, rising costs, raised rents, local businesses closing and overall worsening conditions for locals is a reason to be alarmed and many have voiced these concerns.? Who is acting on behalf of the local residents?? Look at a few examples:? The meters in downtown Charleston increased by 100% and the hours of operation were raised from 6 PM to 10 PM.? On Folly Beach, it is now $10 to walk the streets for their festivals, when for so many year it was free.? These are just a few case studies of changes that putting a pinch on local residents.
  • Highway Infrastructure – The Brooklyn Bridge just celebrated its 135th birthday and still stands as strong and safe as ever.? With the Wando Bridge fiasco, the bridge slip of Dan Holt a few months ago and ice shutting down the Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge, it is evident we have a real reason to be concerned about our highway system.? We compliment the amazing efforts of CARTA to change cultural thinking about mass transit and assist in this growing issue, but that isn’t enough.

When will be begin to not only look at these areas, but take real steps to improve conditions?

Charleston, SC Lacks A Soul and Backbone

By Mark A. Leon

The headlines read, “the end of an era” and “progress is upon us”.? We have heard those words time and time again over the last two years as more and more legacy businesses have fallen.

This week we learned that on the day a major developer signed the paper work to take over the property of the James Island Carmike Cinema, the theater was closed and all staff were immediately out of jobs.? Several companies invested $100M into two apartment developments on Upper King and Spring continuing the expansion North.? Nearly $50M has been invested into seven new area storage facilities.? The cost of living in Charleston, SC is 31% ahead of the national average and 51% above of the remainder of South Carolina.? Is this growth and pace healthy?

Yet with the hundreds of millions of dollars put into the “progress” of the city, the average Charleston driver is spending $1850 annually on car repairs due to bad roads.

At the end of the day, the definition of progress in Charleston is simple:? Bring in tourists and revenue and put your own citizens in the corner to suffer.? That is where the lack of passion and soul comes to the forefront.? We have elected officials that we have chosen to represent us and council meetings that hear requests for zoning modifications and approvals monthly.? How many step up and force the hand of our elected officials and say “Stop, we have had enough”?? Power in numbers is what drives change and we just aren’t there.? We have a responsibility to let our voice be heard and in numbers.? Off the cuff comments and unsubstantiated gripes on social while we hide behind our smartphones and desktops will not ignite change.

I recently spent time in Southern California and Lower Manhattan and experienced two vibrant cultures showered in individual expressiveness, warmth and an edgy, yet relaxed sense of comfort.? Two places basking in the arts and culture, fired by the loins to take-action and fulfilled with a sense of community support.? Both these areas have tourism boards and self-proclaimed proponents of the amenities they offer, yet the one element they lack is the in your face bragging that has saturated the Charleston culture.

In a recent Travel & Leisure piece naming the top 100 restaurants in the world, not one Charleston restaurant made the list, yet we prominently brag of our dominance in the foodie world.? It is evident based on the percentage of visual posts on social dedicated exclusively to food.? Chefs are celebrities and the prominent wealthy will drop hundreds to say they experienced what is claimed to be the best.

While at the same time, an entire tent city of homeless is wiped out.

Also, when we make it on some digital or print publication’s top list, regardless of whether we are 15, 33, 45 or 80, it is a moment of celebration.? I’ve often questioned, at what level on a list is a city worthy of celebration.? Then again, do we need to celebrate or can we take comfort in knowing we earned something special?

We claim to have the best Southern chefs in the country; the most promising BBQ scene around and the most creative menus this side of the Mason Dixon.? Yet we lack diversity in food in every sense of the word on the peninsula.? How many Vietnamese, Malaysian, Korean, Dutch, Brazilian or Peruvian themed restaurants are on the peninsula?

Let us move away from the food topic for just a moment, away from the numerous pop up companies promoting tee-shirts, hats, towels, blankets, Instagram accounts and anything that regards Charleston as “Heaven” and focus on the soul of this city.

Without the benefit of chatter trends, it is clear many have openly vocalized their distaste for increased traffic issues (with the supporters sticking to “It’s far worse in New York, San Francisco and Chicago), population growth and cost of living tsunami that has hit Charleston in the last five years.? Yet, how many attend the zoning ordinance meetings that vote on approval of all this new construction?

We want Charleston to remain quiet, historic and full of its “Southern Charm”, yet we don’t use the voice we are given when we elect our city and county officials.

For those of you that have ever been involved in a protest, it has value.? It is a collective public voice promoting change.? Its core values date back thousands of years and it has served to ignite some of the most important movements in history.? It fuels the engine of process.? How many protests have you witnessed in your lifetime in Charleston?? For those that are going to say the Unity Walk for Mother Emanuel or the Woman’s March, those were events of solidarity and unity, not protests for change.? The Charleston Five was a protest and that set a fire that carried all the way to Columbia.

I would like to shift gears once more and look at priorities in Charleston.? These are the top priorities as I see them from monitoring trends online:

  • Restaurants
  • Beaches
  • Windows and architecture
  • Festivals
  • Drinking (We do have the #1 seller of PBR in the US and as many breweries as shopping centers)
  • Dogs
  • Shopping

I welcome the debate, but I don’t see the following as high priorities

  • Education
  • Cost of Living
  • Roads and infrastructure concerns
  • Career opportunities and growth
  • Public safety
  • Flooding

In fact, we turn our heads to negative as if it doesn’t exist.

At the blink of an eye, we are missing a community that is ready to explode with a creative renaissance and a thirst to promote change in conservationism, the arts, homeless support, coastal restoration and technology.? From the thriving theatre district that struggles to fill shows outside the spotlight of Spoleto to the incredible work being done for sea turtle rehabilitation and dog rescue to a poetry scene that has elements of Greenwich Village in the 1960’s when singers, poets and activists united.

Charleston wants to show the world that we care about our planet and all its creatures, have a creative force that could compete worldwide and want to show a community committed to sharing, equal rights and support.

We are desperately missing the boat and we aren’t even interested in trying.

The numbers do not lie.? Charleston is one of the fastest growing cities in the South and becoming one of the fastest growing in the United States.? The cost of housing is 31 basis points above the United States average index and 51 basis points above the South Carolina average.? Classrooms are overcrowded, tourism has taken over as the top priority, yet we mask marketing media around “buy local”.? The historic societies fought behind the scenes for over 200 years to keep the peninsula’s rich history and esthetics intact and after one year, we have a mayor that has destroyed this blueprint.

It is fine, because we are Charleston nice.? We will continue to say good day to you, nod our heads and smile because that is who we are.? Southern charm is alive and well in the South.? I just wish we would look in the mirror and try to find the heart and soul to fight for a city we used to love.

Is James Island Becoming the New West Ashley?

By Mark A. Leon

It is often said that a dog owner over time begins to take on the attributes and look of its furry companion.? This analogy may hold true for James Island, SC.? Once the gateway to the natural wonders of Johns Island and Folly Beach, is now taking on a facelift right before our eyes.

Just a bridge away from downtown Charleston, beautiful Windermere area of West Ashley and Johns Island, James Island is a hub for the beauty of the coast.? While it has struggled to find its own identity, James Island is still a resourceful community based town that took pride in family and local commerce, tradition, sports and education.

Like most of Charleston county, times are evolving and changes are happening that some see as progress while others see as a loss of identity.

One very distinct commonality between West Ashley and James Island remains:? Struggle to differentiate from Charleston and find its own sense of identity.

Black Diamond Group Development of new structure for Walgreens relocation
Black Diamond Group Development of new structure for Walgreens relocation

Signs of the changing landscape of James Island:

  • O2 Fitness will be joining the Folly Road retail strip along with Gold’s Gym – Two known chain fitness corporations.
  • PetSmart will be opening in the BiLo plaza in 2017.
  • There are now 3 Harris Teeters within seven miles on the same road.
  • Camp and Folly Road Improvement Project
  • Rite-Aid, CVS and Walgreens are within 3 miles of each other
  • Folly Road offers a bike lane, but it is still in a high risk, high traffic area
  • Traffic issues on Folly Road have gotten worse pouring overflow into HarborView, Riverland and Maybank
  • Within 3 miles are three fast food chain pizza companies:? Marcos, Dominos and Little Caesar’s
  • The Roller Risk on Folly Road that created so many childhood memories is now gone.
  • There are 7 automotive parts and/or repair shops with a 4-mile radius.
  • Chik-fil-a, Publix, Sonic, Huddle House, IHOP, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Arby’s, TCBY, Dollar Tree, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Tuesday Morning contribute to the corporate logos high above the roadways.
  • Badd Kitty was welcomed in 2016 to James Island
  • New housing developments in the works or completed on Fort Johnson, Folly Road and Maybank Highway.
  • Farmer’s Market moved from a neighborhood park to the back lot of The Pour House

These are a few of the changes happening on James Island right before our eyes.? Soon, this small town, with its own unique identity only a stone throw away from Charleston, Folly and Johns Island, will become a corporate suburb.

Do not be surprised if the rise of hotels soon becomes the new skyline of James Island and tourists adopt this area as their vacation starting point.