City must craft the right plan to revitalize West Ashley

Mayor John Tecklenburg and Charleston City Council are working on a plan to revitalize West Ashley. (Wade Spees/Staff)

BY KEITH WARING and BILL MOODY

City Council has debated at length the makeup of the West Ashley Revitalization Task Force and the qualifications of appointees.

This dialogue posed many questions, including the important bottom-line considerations of the background and relevant skill sets and community commitments of those proposed to serve on this task force, and the appointees’ abilities to guide the formulation of an action-oriented strategic plan for the long overdue revitalization of an important part of the City of Charleston.

Regrettably, we don’t have good answers, we don’t have details, we don’t have the backgrounds of proposed task force members, we can’t measure their commitments to West Ashley’s future.

Yet we do have a sense that we are about to embark on a community planning process that promises great results, but we’re doing it with a “ready, fire, aim” mindset.

It’s not just about the Task Force membership, it’s about Mayor John Tecklenburg’s and City Council’s commitment to truly revitalize West Ashley.

This task force will have an important mission and its work will immediately generate high expectations. West Ashley is no longer Old Charleston’s annexation threshold of the Sixties. Today it is the city’s largest “area” with a population now exceeding 100,000 people. Most are City of Charleston residents.

The functionality of West Ashley and its aesthetic qualities are strategically important to Greater Charleston’s economic and social well-being, and that is particularly true in the operational relationships between West Ashley and Peninsula Charleston. History and tourism are common themes for Peninsula Charleston and its West Ashley areas. West Ashley is the birthplace of South Carolina — Charles Towne Landing — and the gateway to numerous historic sites such as Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and Middleton Place, and resort destinations, such as Seabrook and Kiawah islands.

West Ashley matters, and yes, the mission of West Ashley revitalization is important — very important. And Mayor Tecklenburg and City Council must get this right, once and for all.

West Ashley residents and businesses have been more than patient and deserve the benefit of the experience and best practices for revitalization that have been applied to many Peninsula city projects. The process must draw on the vast experience gained by those who participated in so many successful city and private sector developments. It should also include those who are currently involved in development projects throughout the city.

Moving revitalization concepts to productive projects will quickly relate to funding formula. This will highlight the city’s ability to attract private-sector dollars. Successful funding formulas include tax incremental financing, grant funding, accommodation and hospitality taxes, City of Charleston revenue bonds, and City of Charleston general funds. Task Force membership should include knowledge and experience in city development projects and working knowledge of private and public funding strategies.

The city should rally county, state and federal elected leaders and their agencies to understand the “priority” of West Ashley revitalization and to help promote grants and assist in recruiting equity investors and developers.

And we might question if we’re dealing with a tale of two planning disciplines — one for Peninsular Charleston and one for West Ashley.

An example is Charleston’s upper peninsula development concept “Lorelei,” a 160-acre development now emerging from conceptual planning stages as an estimated $1 billion dollar development. It has a nationally recognized development team and the nationally recognized master planner — Andres Duany. The “Lorelei” development group is now reaching out to the community at large, to show their plan and to seek public input. There is a projected time frame for “Lorelei” to begin plan implementation in 18 months.

In the case of the West Ashley revitalization planning process, the City of Charleston has not employed a nationally recognized master planner to help in defining the vision of what a revitalized West Ashley can become; the city has not developed a funding formula to help attract and recruit nationally recognized equity investors and developers; and the city has not identified a time frame for implementation.

Experienced planners, a well thought out vision and financial strategy are integral to the success of any major project. A few of the past major developments that have been catalysts for revitalization in Peninsula Charleston include Charleston Place, the Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Waterfront Park and Daniel Island. In addition, Hampton Park, Colonial Lake and Gadsdenboro Park are wonderful public spaces that were created by the City for all to enjoy.

Is the City of Charleston planning the revitalization of West Ashley the right way?

Mayor Tecklenburg and City Council should give West Ashley revitalization the priority it merits and deserves.

Let’s commit to this long-overdue revitalization with a master plan notable for its excellence.

The citizens of Charleston deserve nothing less.

Keith Waring and Bill Moody are Charleston city councilmen representing West Ashley.