HICKS COLUMN: Gaillard Auditorium proposal represents new vision for Charleston
A nice, big performing arts center on the waterfront would be so Charleston.
Several people have informally proposed it over the years — our own Sydney Opera House for the home of Spoleto. Well, the Preservation Society has put together an attractive plan to do it.
The op-ed piece from Evan R. Thompson, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, was the most emailed story on The Post and Courier website last weekend, suggesting a lot of people like the idea.
But it's not going to happen.
This is just the latest chapter in the battle for Charleston's soul. Basically, it is preservationists versus Joe Riley Part Deux. First it was Historic Charleston Foundation and the cruise ships, now this.
The Preservation Society is worried that the $141 million renovation and expansion of the Gaillard Auditorium, which will include new city offices and an outdoor performance area, will crowd Ansonborough too much.
That may be, but the train has left the station.
The Preservation Society says a better place for a new auditorium would be the Union Pier property.
And they say the Cigar Factory, which sits empty, would be a much better city office building and might even help redevelop the East Side.
Which is true. Coincidentally, it is also across the street from the spot many downtowners vainly want the new cruise ship terminal to go.
Mayor Riley says this is “not a good workable or affordable idea for a lot of reasons.”
He says it would cost between $80 million and $110 million more than the Gaillard renovation. The city would have to buy Union Pier land; there's not enough parking at the Cigar Factory; it would likely lose private donations; and this plan would mess up a tax increment financing district, complicating the Crosstown funding.
Besides, they are $10 million into the Gaillard renovation.
It's too late to turn back.
It's ironic that Riley, who is often credited with revitalizing Charleston and preserving its historic district, is at odds with preservation groups.
As Charleston has become an even greater city, Riley has faced increasing criticism from old allies who want to save part of the city at the expense — as the mayor likely sees it — of his larger vision.
But it's really just a different vision.
When the cruise ship flap started, Riley told downtown residents that Charleston is a living, working city — not a gated community. He's right.
As for the Gaillard, which will encroach on George Street some, he simply talks about the “woven, urban fabric” where commercial bumps up against residential. Like Broad Street.
Thompson says his group's idea fits the city's comprehensive plan much better, which also may be true. The Preservation Society plan isn't pie-in-the-sky, it's a serious vision for the city proposed by people with Charleston's best interests at heart.
Even though it's probably too late for this plan, it raises interesting questions about how Charleston might change after Riley finishes his final term, when someone else takes over.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.