The repayment of the city’s loan for the Omni hotel project — $22.8 million — was a bit of serendipity for Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and the West Ashley area. The money will be used for the mayor’s two top goals of improving affordable housing and economic development west of the Ashley. It should provide a major boost toward fulfilling a campaign pledge.
Distribution of the money will be guided by the Local Development Corp., formed during Mayor Joe Riley’s administration to assist with downtown redevelopment. As the LDC shifts its focus to West Ashley, the possibilities include the establishment of a revolving loan fund for affordable housing, infrastructure improvements and assistance for economic development initiatives.
The unexpected repayment of the Omni loan will provide a shot in the arm for an area of the city that needs help to revive its commercial fortunes and improve its residential life.
Less encouraging, however, are the City Council’s stumbling efforts toward the creation of a West Ashley Commission to recommend a comprehensive plan for the area’s redevelopment.
So far, City Council has shifted back and forth on the commission, first contesting Mayor Tecklenburg’s plan, then approving its own, and now shifting again. Mayor Tecklenburg first recommended the creation of a West Ashley Commission, whose members would be named by him and confirmed by council, to assist in the development of a comprehensive renewal plan for the suburban area.
But some West Ashley councilmen balked, saying that council should make its own picks. Council agreed to change the ordinance to provide for council’s heightened involvement.
Now some of those same councilmen are saying that the decision was the wrong one, and that the commission representatives selected by council don’t include the businessmen who could provide the expertise and clout necessary for the task.
Councilman Keith Waring now believes that the mayor’s plan was better all along. “To reinvigorate West Ashley is going to take hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, in support of a greater business presence on the board. Mr. Waring, incidentally, named a fireman to the commission.
Maybe it’s important to take another look at the proposal for the commission and its appointees, but it is hard to imagine that there won’t be hard feelings if council decides to replace the members of a citizens’ board simply because they aren’t sufficiently influential.
Mayor Tecklenburg says that the changes shouldn’t present major difficulties. It will be interesting to see how the mayor handles this council-created problem.
At least West Ashley is getting more attention. And at least the LDC is prepared to provide the kind of attention it needs.