Last Wednesday, the State Ports Authority (SPA) presented to the public preliminary design plans for the new Union Pier cruise ship terminal. The concept presented to the public represents a significant chapter in what has become a saga on how to best use the more than 60 acres of waterfront property, an unattractive industrial site.
The plan calls for a brand new facility that will be located north of the present-day cruise ship terminal on the peninsula.
According to the SPA, the move will reduce the footprint of the industrial zone and better circulate vehicle, train, and foot traffic. Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SPA, touted the plan as having the potential to turn what is now an example of urban blight into a facility that better integrates with the downtown historic district. “The community has shared their excitement about the possibilities related to the new terminal and its surroundings,” said Newsome during the unveiling. “Our world-class design team has translated those suggestions into a plan that delivers what the community wants to see.”
In the eyes of SPA spokesman Byron Miller, the plan presented last week is the culmination of a long and involved public planning process that has spanned the better part of a decade.
Port representatives held over 100 public meetings on the controversial project, and it cost the Ports Authority millions. In a recent interview with City Paper, Miller asserted that the process, though time intensive and costly, had translated to into greater compromise, especially considering the facility itself. “Of the greater peninsula area’s 87 neighborhoods, only two seem to stand collectively in opposition to the project at this point,” Miller said. Those two neighborhood’s include the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, which is adjacent to the proposed port, and the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the posh area South of Broad.
The opinions expressed at a May 9 public forum present an entirely different story from the one Miller was telling. At that meeting, opponents of the plan pressed city officials on a host of issues, most notably that the plan doesn’t do much in the way of regulating the cruise industry nor the Ports Authority itself. Opponents of the proposal cite the lack of written assurances between the cruise industry the Ports Authority and the public as evidence that the plan as it stands now paves the way for greater growth. Although the SPA has volunteered a cap of 104 ships per year, many opponents of the plan remain against a plan they feel is toothless unless the city gets it in writing. The lack of a written assurances from the cruise industry has also divided Charleston City Council and caused many to question Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.’s motivation not to press for more regulations.