[image-1][image-2]Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has been out of office for nearly 18 months, but with plans filed last week, a small piece of his vision for a public waterfront could come closer to reality. A new hotel project adjacent to Waterfront Park could extend the public space by nearly 400 feet.
In plans posted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 30, the company developing a new hotel set to be built on Concord Street (on the site of the State Ports Authority building) would also build an extension of the existing Waterfront Park seawall and pedestrian path across its property to Fleet Landing restaurant. (via P&C.)
A modest step to extend one of the city’s most-photographed spots, for sure, but a step nonetheless. Upon Riley’s departure from office in 2016, nearly every farewell profile cited Waterfront Park as one of Riley’s enduring achievements.
But it’s nearly certain that the park would not exist without Riley.
Weeks after taking office in 1975, Riley thwarted a mixed-use apartment project proposed on the site and the new mayor set his eyes on a new park, but it would take time. Three years later, the property owner came to deal, Riley lined up federal funds, and a foundation formed at Riley’s urging raised enough money to put the city in the driver’s seat.
Here’s how P&C columnist Brian Hicks put it in his 2016 Riley biography:
The mayor had coveted the Concord Street land for years. This rough collection of parking lots and marshland overlooked the Cooper River, the harbor, and the abandoned island fort of Castle Pinckney. It was very nearly the last available waterfront property on the peninsula, and Riley new it could rival even The Battery for the city’s best view.
As Riley was fending off preservationists fighting the development of the Charleston Place Hotel, still in his first of 10 terms as mayor, Riley also had the land he wanted for what would become the waterfront park named for him. Over the next decade, Riley would battle rival politicians for the money to build his park.
Riley confided that the Union Pier land north of Waterfront Park could some day become the city’s most valuable redevelopment project, Hicks notes. As part of controversial cruise ship port upgrades that Riley championed, a public walkway was included in the plans. Even in his final years as mayor, Riley sometimes speculated that the waterfront promenade could extend even farther to the South Carolina Aquarium — another Riley initiative harnessing the waterfront for the public.
The plans for the Waterfront Park extension also depict an expanded public plaza in front of the planned hotel and another 400-foot pier to serve water taxis. The Post and Courier reports that the park improvements would be made by Lowe Enterprises, the hotel developer, and transferred to the city. The public can submit comments about the plans through July 15. [location-1]