Summey: North Charleston thriving, plans in the works for south side

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey

Business is booming in North Charleston, Mayor Keith Summey said in his State of the City address.

The pre-recorded video recapping 2014 was presented to City Council on Thursday.

“I always found these things to be horribly boring,” Summey said before the meeting. “I couldn’t expect the audience to stay awake when I fell asleep, so we tried to find a way to do it that was not only informative but somewhat entertaining.”

This year’s report opened with a montage of videos to the theme song from the TV show “Parks and Recreation” followed by the mayor sitting on a bench at Riverfront Park. Over the next 26 minutes, he and several city department heads recited last year’s accomplishments, which included increases in just about every area from retail sales to business licenses to accommodations taxes to the number of calls to the fire department.

One number that fell was new home construction, where valuation fell from $44.3 million in 2013 to $39.7 million in 2014. That was offset by a $3 million increase in residential renovations to $10.6 million.

“I think the reason for that is that there’s a trend now for rentals, especially from the 40-and-under group and especially singles,” the mayor said. “It’s a different generation and they don’t want the responsibility of home ownership. If you look at the number of apartments and rental properties that are being built, it’s over 2,000 and we’ve got more coming in, so we are seeing that pick up.”

In addition, officials have been working to revitalize the south side of the city, Summey said.

“Reynolds Avenue at one time was the busiest business corridor in North Charleston and we think it has hope for the future,” he said. “We look forward to the day that the southern end of the city will be what it was 25 years ago.”

One of his priorities is to bring a grocery store to the area, which has been classified as a “food desert,” or an area with low-income residents without access to a healthy, affordable grocery.

“We haven’t lined one up yet but we’re constantly meeting with people,” he said. “At the end of the day, if the general public doesn’t step in to open up a grocery store, the city will work with the community to do our own grocery store.”

Summey said the city is considering a store that offers buy-ins for community members.

“It’s not a normal thing, but of course, we don’t always do normal things in North Charleston,” he said.

In addition, the Chicora Life Center, which is expected to open this spring housing several state and county agencies, will add vitality to the area, Summey said.

“Where those people work, they’ll want to eat, they’ll want to shop,” he said. “We think that’s a good jump start for us.”

The city also acquired the former Chicora Elementary School in a land exchange with Charleston County School District and is working on plans for that building. For now, it is the site of a community garden.

Summey hopes to create a business incubator.

“Whether we are going to be able to or not, I’m not sure,” he said. “We at least need to investigate the chance so that we can get start-up companies that come in and hopefully will make a commitment once they outgrow the start-up phase to locate in that general area, creating activity and potential jobs.”

The address also included other notable projects the city undertook in 2014, such as the November ground breaking of the new $5.2 million, 18,000-square-foot fire station; the senior center on Dorchester road expected to open in late 2015; the public works building that will open in February; and the extensions of Future and Northside drives.

Summey did not address the city’s crime rate in the video — 22 murders in 2014 — but Chief Eddie Driggers talked about some of the police department’s efforts to improve community relations.

“Of course we are trying to lower the crime rate,” Summey said Thursday night. “It is what it is. It’s sad. I wish there was something we could do to stop the number of young men killing other young men. That’s why we have police officers in every school and started new athletic leagues this year.”

The video is available on the city’s web site, www.northcharleston.org.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.