Tonight I am very pleased to report to you on the state of our City. As I do so, I wish to first thank you, thank you for the honor of serving you as your Mayor and thank you for all you do to make this community such a wonderful place to live, to work and to raise our children. It is said houses make a town and citizens make a city. Your sense of civic responsibility, your hard work and dedication are why Charleston is such a special place.
And as we are emerging from the economic recession, it is helpful to be reminded of the national and international recognition that Charleston has been receiving, like Forbes Magazine citing Charleston as one of the top 10 best cities for technology jobs as well as ranking the City in the top 10 world’s smartest cities. We are recognized as one of the top cities in which to do business by Market Watch; listed as the second favorite American travel destination by Conde Nast Magazine, one of the best places to retire in the South. We were selected the number one Best Tennis Town in America; named as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2010. And there are many more. I point this out to thank and congratulate you, our citizens for making this possible, but also to remind us that this community is on the go, our future is bright, our economy is growing and our best days are ahead. And I know that many of you, directly or family members or friends or neighbors have been impacted by the economic downtown and that is why doing everything that we possibly can to bring more jobs to our region is our first priority.
That is why when I met with President Obama this past Thursday I urged the deepening Charleston Harbor. This is all about jobs. The Panama Canal is being widened. The new canal will open in 2014. Much wider and larger ships will be able to pass through the Panama Canal and those size ships will become the norm in the shipping industry in our world. It is essential that the port of Charleston be able to handle these larger ships. Our channel needs to be deepened from 45’ to 50’.
The Port of Charleston under the leadership of Jim Newsome is in a growing mode. Last year their container volume increased by 17%. We need to sustain this momentum and I believe that when the harbor deepening is assured, Charleston then will be the most attractive and successful port in the southeast. We cannot rest until our harbor is deepened.
This year we welcomed the Carnival Cruise Line beginning their regular service to our City. The cruise business is a very positive economic driver, a job creator. City Council, working with the Ports Authority, is confident that the eventually 104 ships, or an average of two per week, is the right scale for our City, produces huge economic benefits, and is very manageable.
This allows for the Ports Authority to build a new passenger terminal within the Union Pier property on the northern end, freeing up a substantial amount of waterfront property for redevelopment that will substantially increase public access along the water and allow for the redevelopment of land now covered by unattractive warehouses for residential and commercial use. This is a job creator as well.
The Boeing Dreamliner assembly plant will open this July. This is an economic development achievement of historic proportions. Creating 3,800 jobs being created in this world-class facility and signaling the Charleston area becoming a center for aerospace construction and engineering. I know we have all been so impressed by all of the Boeing representatives that we have come to know in this community. These blue chip, world aviation leaders’ presence in our community will be not only an economic boon, but a civic one as well.
And, of course, this March 13 Southwest Airlines will begin flying in and out of Charleston. This will produce an immediate reduction in the cost of air travel in and out of Charleston which is beneficial to every citizen in our community who travels by air, but also a very significant tool in recruiting new business to our community. The arrival of Southwest Airlines is a job generator in that regard as well as it is estimated it will being an additional 200,000-300,000 visitors to our community.
The first phase of the Septima Clark/Crosstown drainage project will soon be underway. Bids will be opened in February on this $12.3 million project creating over 120 jobs. This first phase will rebuild the road and water collection systems as well as beautify this harsh scar placed through our community in the ‘60s. There will be a tree-lined median in the center, pedestrian crossings will be substantially enhanced and we will have taken the first major step in the construction of addressing this drainage challenge. This drainage challenge is substantially a national and state responsibility because this is a Federal highway, US 17. My staff and I are working with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of South Carolina Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security. I believe that with everyone working together we can arrange the necessary funding for the next phases of this project. I will not rest until the funding is in hand for its completion.
The Charleston Digital Corridor grew by 20 companies last year. The Corridor supports and encourages the attraction and development of high wage, knowledge-based jobs in our City. An innovative new venture of the Digital Corridor was our Flagship, which opened last year. It is a premier co-working facility to assist the development of and incubation of small knowledge-based companies. This was enormously successful, adding 75 new jobs to our economy and has allowed us to begin our next Flagship initiative or Flagship Two, which is next door in the former Channel 5 television station. This larger facility will allow us to support even more rapidly growing small knowledge-based businesses. The Digital Corridor companies reported an average wage of approximately $76,000, twice the state and regional averages.
The Innovation Center, which is a joint venture with the Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina Research Authority and the City of Charleston opened on Meeting Street last year and it is successfully incubating medical-related businesses and industries. We are committed to Charleston becoming a regional biotech center and will be working very hard to get the first phase of the Horizon District underway this year. This district will allow us to take advantage of the $235 million of research activity that our established Medical University of South Carolina is engaged in each year to help create biotech and life science businesses and industries in our community. The Horizon District would be a new live/work community that in itself will be a substantial new job generator.
And last year in a recovering economy, 1,209 new City business licenses were issued.
The historic City Market is also going to receive major drainage improvements this year. A 4,000 foot tunnel 80 feet below Market Street will collect the storm water from the Market area and bring it to the pump station on Concord Street. This work will substantially be underground and will not impact the beautiful City Market which is undergoing a marvelous restoration, led by local Charleston business leaders. The final phase of the Market restoration is underway and in the building that runs from Meeting to Church Street will be a new great hall that will have 19 shops on it. Its design is most handsome as has been the restoration of the other Market buildings. When finished, we think we will have one of the great city markets in America.
Here you see construction underway on Glen McConnell Parkway. This is a project to substantially alleviate the congestion in this area and especially in the Magwood/Glen McConnell intersection.
Here Folly Road and Maybank Highway were reworked creating a much safer series of intersections, as well as substantially more handsome with medians, plantings and pedestrian amenities that never existed before.
Bee’s Ferry Road from Hwy 61 to Hwy 17 is going to be widened to four lanes with bike and pedestrian facilities. Charleston County Roadwise is in the final stages of design and right-of-way acquisition and this project will include the construction of the other three quadrants of the West Ashley Circle, which then creates the opportunity for the eventual extension of the Glen McConnell Parkway.
The completion of I-526, I believe, is very important for the future livability and transportation safety of our community. The Lowcountry suffers from too few roads and that is because of our water courses of rivers and creeks that prevents the normal and easier extension of a street system or highways to connect parts of our metropolitan area. The completion of I-526 is much needed now and will be desperately needed in the future to connect parts of our region to each other. Without this completion, in time Savannah Highway, St. Andrews Blvd., Wesley Drive, portions of Folly Road, Maybank Highway and intersections along there will become traffic nightmares, eroding the quality of life of residential neighborhoods nearby. What the City of Charleston has suggested and the State Department of Transportation has under consideration is a lower scale highway that will be much less intrusive to Johns Island and to James Island, cost less money and will have a wonderful bike and pedestrian path that will connect the West Ashley Greenway and other bike and pedestrian rights now in existence or to be created west of the Ashley to the James Island County Park. Some argue that if we abandon I-526, the money set aside for that in the State Infrastructure Bank can be used elsewhere. That is not what State leaders have told me. If we abandon this project, these funds will go to other projects in line and the Lowcountry will get no transportation improvements and in time the roads and intersections I mentioned will become nightmares and people in the future will wonder why we let that happen. We cannot.
A very important part of our transportation system is a beautiful amenity as well and that is the West Ashley Greenway. This is an amazing 10-mile walkway and bikeway that connects Main Road to Albemarle Road. We see here a small bridge that is being replaced closer to Main Road and the gorgeous views that are had from this location. The Greenway connects dozens of neighborhoods west of the Ashley to each other and will increasingly be a more well used system to get to and from work. We concluded the Master Plan for the Greenway that envisions improvements in all sections of the Greenway in the future as City Council has funded the first phase of these improvements that will get underway this year.
Working with Charleston County Council and State DOT, we unveiled the plan to create bike lanes along St. Andrews Blvd. from Wesley Drive to Sycamore. This will create substantially safer biking along St. Andrews Blvd. and will also have the effect of calming traffic and making it safer for residents of the neighborhoods along St. Andrews Blvd. to get to and from their homes. We are also working aggressively to complete a network of bike routes in all sections of our City.
The addition of parks and recreation facilities is an important responsibility of a growing community. This last year we opened the beautiful new Bees Landing Park West of the Ashley. We celebrated the opening with a confetti shower and it was a beautiful afternoon when you could hear the sounds of the football pads of young players tackling each other to the shouts of joy from their little bothers and sisters playing on the playground and seniors signing up for a wonderful array of athletic activities in the gym and much, much more.
We named the tennis facility at Bees Landing in honor of former Mayor Arthur B. Shirmer who was not only a wonderful member of City Council and Mayor of Charleston, but an avid tennis player.
The City of Charleston’s Department of Recreation was named the Athletic Department of the Year for South Carolina in 2010.
We broke ground on Governors Park on Daniel Island which will be a 40 acre park immediately adjacent to the Family Circle Tennis Center that will have ball fields, play areas, paths along the Wando River and more. It will also be a very desirable and community event place on Daniel Island and it will open in early Fall.
We have just begun planning a Northbridge Park which will be a transformative space on the Ashley River adjacent to the North Ashley River Bridge. There will be a small pier that will project out over the Ashley River and the landscaping as a part of this park will make this entry into the West Ashley part of our city appropriately more handsome. Also, we will soon begin the conception and design of another waterfront access opportunity at the end of the West Ashley bikeway that will project out to the Ashley River adjacent to the Maryville neighborhood. From this pier one will be able to see up and down the Ashley River including where our City was founded, Charlestowne Landing.
Our Public Safety Departments continue to excel in attending to the first responsibility of government and that is to make our communities safe. Our Police Department under the excellent leadership of Chief Greg Mullen achieved an amazing 20% reduction in violent crime this past year. This is even more impressive because it follows two successful years of decreases in violent crime, or for the last three years our violent crime rate in Charleston has decreased 55%. The continued increased engagement of our neighborhoods has been of enormous benefit to our Police Department. Chief Mullen created Community Action Teams and these team officers work in addition to their neighborhood and beat police officers to supplement their activities and focus on areas that may need additional attention. We now have 412 police officers which is the largest and best police department in the state, which is the highest number we have ever had. Additionally, Chief Mullen and his police officers have created two wonderful summer camp initiatives for children in our community: Camp Hope and Camp Pride. They both have given our youngsters positive summer leadership experiences and getting them and their parents and neighbors to better know our wonderful Police Department in a very positive way.
Our Fire Department, led by Chief Tom Carr is also at its largest strength in history. We now have 320 firefighters, having trained 35 recruits the last year and we have a recruit class of 20 members in training at this time. We are very proud of Chief Carr for this year his peers recognized him as he received the International Fire Chief Association’s Career Chief of the Year. I was honored to be with him when he received it.
Our fire training division has been particularly busy and with our new leadership is making sure that the members of our Fire Department have the best skills and readiness possible.
Because of your positive vote in November, we have an unprecedented opportunity to provide our children with a substantial number of new, 21st century schools in our community. Underway this year the construction of the Montessori Community School on the Springfield campus west of the Ashley, the renovated Rivers Middle School, a new Memminger Elementary School, a substantially renovated James Simmons Elementary, Buist Academy and Charleston Progressive Academy. Also, to open a year after those will be Harbourview Elementary on James Island, St. Andrews Math and Science and then following that, the James Island Charter High School Fine Arts facility, substantially renovated Angel Oak Elementary school, and a new Springfield Elementary School. New school facilities make a difference. I’ve seen it. They are transformative to the students and to the teachers. I work very closely with Dr. McGinley and her colleagues on a host of initiatives to make our schools even better in our community. I am especially pleased to be working with community leader Bill Hewitt and others on the Charleston Promise Neighborhood, which we believe will be a national model of communities and citizens working with school districts to substantially enhance the quality of public education in our inner cities.
Also, two weeks ago we broke ground on the Meeting Street School which also will be a national model. This is a school that will be constructed with private funds located in the inner city on Meeting Street. The City made possible the land acquisition, we will in turn have a gymnasium built with private funds that will be available to the neighborhood and most importantly these children will be going to an amazing elementary school that will help raise the bar in our community and in cities in our country, proving that every child can learn and we make sure to do everything we can so that every child does.
Due to the wonderful generosity of our primary donor and willingness to privately raise one half of the $142 million design and construction cost coupled with our ability to use special revenues available to the City that cannot be used for general government purposes that total more than $50 million, the elimination of nearly $1 million in rents as we move our City functions into created office space on the George Street side of the Center and the ability of the renovated Center to earn over $750,000 more per year than the Gaillard Auditorium now earns, the Gaillard Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where Charleston can create a world-class civic place, add revenues to the City, save taxpayers money.
The downtown area shuttle system is now free due to an arrangement we worked out with the Charleston Visitors and Convention Bureau and the South Carolina State Ports Authority, using visitor-related revenues. The trolley you see is the one that runs essentially down King Street through the Market and up Meeting Street to Spring Street. It has approximately 10 minute headways, that is a bus approximately every 10-11minutes. You don’t need any money, you just need to get on. We believe this accomplishes many things, making it easier for residents, visitors and shoppers to use our downtown area, reduces parking and traffic pressures and is good for the environment as well. Give it a try, I know you will enjoy it.
Also, we began closing King Street from Calhoun to Broad on the second Sunday of every month and this has turned into a wonderful community celebration. Put it on your calendar, the second Sunday every month. Strolling our nationally acclaimed King Street is a lot of fun.
Because of over $1 million in grants, we will create Charleston Saves, a non-profit to assist people like Mrs. Kelly here in upgrading the energy efficiency of their homes. This non-profit will work with residential and commercial building owners to audit the energy efficiency of their residences and buildings, help finance the improvements. We will help our citizens save money and reduce the amount of energy wasted in our community.
This beautiful new Arthur Christopher Community Center will be dedicated tomorrow. It will be the first LEED certified energy efficient gym in South Carolina.
We are very proud of our efforts to continue to increase the amount of affordable housing in our community and to show the nation how they can be beautiful additions to neighborhoods. 66 Lee Street was in horrible state of disrepair and working with the Historic Charleston Foundation and Habitat for Humanity, the City of Charleston was able to assist in the beautiful reconstruction of this home, a long time homeowner being able to continue to reside there.
On Daniel Island, 42 rental homes were added to the Seven Farms Village. This affordable housing is especially noteworthy because it was receiving a LEED Gold certification for its energy conservation features. I was there at the opening; they are just beautiful and the smiles on the faces of the new residents provided energy that could warm many homes. Also, just last week we dedicated these new public housing dwellings on Reid Street. I am sure that they will win design awards as our other scattered site public housing have done and these are also noteworthy because of their energy conservation capacity. These will be platinum, LEED certified which means the best certification that you can get and will be the only public housing in America that has been built to this energy conservation standard.
This is the state of our City – or part of it—for there is even more to tell A City hard at work with a proud past and a very bright future.