Charleston, South Carolina: Reflections of 2016 – A Year in Review



By Mark A. Leon

2016 has been a year that has tested our will and strength.? No words are more true than they lyrics to Don McLean’s immortal classic ‘American Pie’: “Can Music Save Your Mortal Soul”, “a generation lost in space” and “My hands were clenched in fists of rage; no angel born in hell could break that Satan spell.”? Social media and the immediacy of news has brought our world closer together and allowed us to share in the common experience of life.? From Charleston to the World, we have absorbed so much in this monumental year.

As we close 2016, Charleston, SC is not short of memorable stories and moments.? Let us look back on the year that saw the wrath of Hurricane Matthew, redemption for the resting souls of Emanuel AME, a summer’s heat that never seemed to want to end, a generation of businesses saying goodbye and a landscape of Charleston that will forever be changed.

In the last calendar year census release, we learned that South Carolina is the 10th fastest growing state in the union with just over 66,000 new residents (July 1, 2015 – July 1, 2016).? Annualized out, that is nearly a 35% increase in the entire state population in just one decade with a projected growth of 660,000.? That is a fact that is concerning to a number of residents with the Charleston area leading the expansion surge.

Hurricane Matthew tested our preparation strategy and we passed with flying colors.? Our area was more fortunate than most in the Carolinas, but the sense of community, government resources and calm rational thinking got us through the nature disaster without a single fatality.

Mayor Tecklenburg has one year under his belt.? With his morning chats, jazzy music and visibility around town, he has demonstrated that he has the capability of filling the shoes of a political giant, Mayor Joseph Riley.

Perhaps, one of the most challenging changes for our community is the commercialization of the peninsula.? With the additions of Panera on Calhoun, our ninth Starbucks on Upper King and the Hyatt towering above, the traditional family owned culture is shifting away and paving a new landscape for Charleston.? The corner of Calhoun and King looks more like a major metro than a unique historic Southern town with Walgreens, Panera, Carolina Ale House, Chipotle, Moe’s Southwestern, Five Guys Burgers and Starbucks showering us with corporate dominance. (Is this the End of the Holy City?)

This year we said goodbye to some old friends including Tony The Peanut Man, Lilian D. Johnson, Owner of Duke’s BBQ, and the College of Charleston lost three members of its family:? Norman Arnold, Alison Piepmeier and Consuela Francis. ?Long time South Carolina State Senator John Drummond left us and The Alley and Charleston were saddened by the tragic loss of 24-year-old Whitney Jordan.

Several foundations closed their doors for the final time including Hughes Lumber, Morris Sokol Furniture and Bob Ellis Shoes.? Generations of locals have shared fond memories of a different downtown Charleston where generations of business owners treated you like family.

Once again Conde Nast Traveler put Charleston in the limelight and The Spectator Hotel got national prominence and top honors.

Drones no longer captured a skyline of church steeples.? That majestic skyline was dominated in 2016 by cranes.? Street and infrastructure construction was a mainstay from Spring to The Battery, President Street to East Bay.? There wasn’t a roadway on the peninsula that wasn’t affected this year.

It was a rise of the digital billboards and a record of highway fatalities in South Carolina with nearly 1000 as we near the end of the calendar year.

Sixteen months after the moment that changed our lives forever, a jury gave a city and a congregation redemption.? Now, the nine souls of the Emanuel AME family can finally rest.

The summer saw countless days over 90 leaving many locals trapped indoors with air conditioner units never having a moment to stop and catch their breath.

The fires of Western Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia made their way to the coast giving us a few auspicious mornings of misty smoke in the air.

Some other notables in 2016:

  • Shem Creek got a parking garage.
  • Downtown Parking garages raised rates.
  • Most residential parking no longer offered free parking after 6:00 PM or 8:00 PM.
  • The county voted a 0.5% sales tax increase – Now Charleston County will have 9% sales tax, 10.5% restaurant food tax and 15% restaurant alcohol tax.
  • Mount Pleasant is seeking a cruise ship port on their side of the Harbor.
  • Bike Lanes have been tested, a bike sharing program instated and more financial resources going into CARTA as the city looks for ways to control the traffic issues with the growing population.
  • Folly Beach bans plastics and has the environmentalists and conservationists cheering.
  • Colonial Lake gets a facelift.
  • The Citadel Football Team brought excitement to the city with a record year including 10 straight wins to start the season.
  • Charleston Angels Partners First Annual Start Up Competition showed that technology has a bright future in Charleston.
  • Gronkowski and DiCaprio stopped by for a visit.
  • The film industry found Charleston to be a shining star including a new Netflix film, Stephen King mini-series and a John Laurens docu-drama.
  • Rent in downtown Charleston has hit record rates with Charleston listed as one of the top US cities for rent percentage increases.
  • Joe Riley Stadium will soon have a retail and dining neighbor, Upper Meeting Street is creating its own high end consumer experience and residents of the East Side must now take a bus to get basic groceries.

2016 was quite a year for us.? Happy New Year Charleston.? We wish you all a healthy and safe 2017.

Top Charleston Stories of 2015

The prominent Mayor Riley
The prominent Mayor Riley

“This hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea that he would be able to divide, and all he did was make us more united, and love each other even more.” – Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley

Emanuel AME Shooting – Charleston is a city that has fought for decades to destroy the racial tensions that have divided this city and region. On the evening of June 17, 2015, this city took a giant step backward in our pursuit of unification and community acceptance when one man executed an act so heinous, without regard for human life that the entire world took notice. For the Summer of 2015, Charleston became the center of gun control and racial tension. In the heart of darkness, we found each other. Without regard of background or race, we bound together to show the world we will overcome and remain Charleston Strong. As the media built cases for gun control, dissected the mind of this killer and looked for answers to how this could happen, Charleston become a city that stood hand in hand and showed the power that love has over terror.

Surviving the flood

1000 Year Flood – The weekend of October 3, shook Charleston and South Carolina. A wave of rain that for many was unprecedented took control of our area and left us captive in our homes. For thousands, their homes stood nearly underwater. Property lost, memories destroyed, waves at record levels and no answers that could put so many at ease. With around the clock news coverage, volunteers in every city and town, and post event relief efforts from all around the country, we all lived through a moment of weakness, where once again, we were forced to rebuild; property and lives. Marshes became oceans, neighborhoods became lakes and for many, the only option was to wait and pray.

Walter Scott Shooting – On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott, a black suspect was shot and killed by North Charleston Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager, a white police officer. What made this event so spectacular is that it was captured on video and what was witnessed was a scared man brutally shot to death. A picture tells a thousand words, a video a million. No one will know exactly what all the circumstances were that led to this merciless death. In the spring of 2015, Charleston was center of national media attention, highlighting the evident racial concerns that still brew in this area. This event happened just days before the 150th anniversary of the end of the US Civil War.

Caitlyn The Dog – Just named by People Magazine as the Best Survival Story of 2015, Caitlyn become the post dog for animal cruelty prevention and awareness. Her story and the images of her treatment sent shivers down our spines and had the entire country routing for one precious dog. After many successful surgeries and a new and loving home, Caitlyn, runs and barks and shows incredible love and compassion for all that come to meet her.

Caitlyn is happy overlooking the water

Mayor Riley Steps Down As Mayor of Charleston – After 40 years as mayor and 47 years as a public servant in South Carolina, the honorable Joseph Riley Jr. will relinquish his seat to a new face and administration. Mayor Riley is an icon of impenetrable valor admired and respected throughout the Charleston community, the Democratic Party and the country. His legacy as the sixteenth longest running mayor in US History will carry on for generations to come.

Off Duty Night Shift Supervisor Lt. Will Rogers Shot in Moncks Corner – On May 14, 2015, an incident happened at an Exxon Station in Moncks Corner. Off duty police officer Will Rogers, in an attempt to talk down the assailant, and was shot several times in the head. After extensive surgery and physical therapy at MUSC, Mr, Rogers is recovering from the incident.

Citadel students image from Facebook

Citadel Students Dressed as Ku Klux Klan Sing Christmas Carols – Eight Citadel Students have been suspended and chants for the presidential dismissal are lingering in the air over images found on Facebook of Citadel Students singing Christmas carols in what appears to be Ku Klux Klan attire. This unprecedented event coming from one of the most respected public schools in the South, the alma mater of Mayor Riley and a city that has been scars from racial wounds throughout the year sent shivers through Charleston as the year came to a close.

Charleston Mayoral Election – Not since 1975, will the city of Charleston see a mayor other than Joseph Riley Jr. By Election Day of 2015, six honorable men and women stood, each representing a passion for Charleston and an agenda for change. By the end of the evening on Tuesday, November 3, we still did not have a decisive winner. With no one candidate receiving 50% of the popular vote, a vote-off would ensue two weeks later and the two remaining candidates would go head to head for this heralded seat. Leon Stavrinakas and John Tecklenburg would remain. After two weeks and two elections, John Tecklenburg stands alone as the Mayor-elect for Charleston, South Carolina.

Lost and defeated

The Citadel Defeats the University of South Carolina Gamecocks – As you looked at the proud faces of the young men that had just beaten the South Carolina Gamecocks, a once powerhouse of the SEC, you would think you were looking at a group of ten year old boys that just cracked a 100 pound pi?ata of candy. Their excitement as they danced in Columbia was a site to see. It was the reward of hard work, believing and a family spirit that led to this victory. On November 21, 2015, as the last second rang off that clock, the final score read, The Citadel 23 – USC 22 and for the first time in twenty-five years, the baby blue of The Citadel was the victor.

Unexpected Tornado Invades Johns Island – On September 25, 2015, an EF-2 tornado rolled through Johns Island leaving a devastating aftermath. Between 70 and 80 homes received damage from the event that sent shocked waves to the residents of this area. “When the [tornado] started roaring, it was absolutely terrifying,” John Bercik, a Sonny Boy Lane resident told Live 5 News. Fortunately, no lives were lost and the American Red Cross joined forces with local authorities to help families through this tragic natural disaster.

Aftermath of Johns Island tornado
Aftermath of Johns Island tornado