Don't make the mayor angry ... you wouldn't like him when he's angry.
All these attacks on the State Ports Authority's plans for a Union Pier development and new cruise ship terminal have brought out the Hulk in Joe Riley. And, frankly, it's been a welcome sight.
Now, this is a tough issue here because both sides have good points. Critics of the Ports Authority's plan have valid concerns about the cruise ship industry invading Charleston. They complain about traffic jams on the peninsula, the relative lack of economic benefit to the city and, somewhat snobbishly, cruise passengers' reputation of having decidedly less upscale taste than Charleston prides itself on.
But Mayor Riley this week argued forcefully -- and convincingly -- that Charleston is a vibrant, working city that needs diversity, jobs and a strong maritime industry.
"We are not turning Charleston into a boutique," Riley said.
Good for the mayor. He's right.
Riley was even more blunt with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has threatened to put Charleston on its "11 Most Endangered List." Talk about hitting below the belt. Charleston, a national model for preservation, listed as endangered?
As you might imagine, the mayor turned a little green. And then he turned the historians' argument back on them.
"The fact is that port activity and commerce, to include waterborne passenger service, is what built this city and the priceless architecture and culture we have. It has sustained this city for 340 years," Riley wrote to the Trust. "You want to 'preserve' a Charleston without waterborne commerce that never existed."
Ouch, that hits home.
Fact is, Charleston needs to embrace all of its history -- not just its fine houses. That is a history that includes a prominent role in the slave trade, the Civil War and, yes, the maritime industry.
So score another point for the mayor.
A little compromise?
On Tuesday, the Coastal Conservation League unveiled plans to develop Union Pier as an extension of the city. They're right, it would be nice.
The problem is, the Ports Authority owns the property and can do pretty much what it wants. It's good that the port has been as pliable as it has been (never mind that the plan will likely be financially, uh, satisfactory).
At the same time, it would be a savvy bit of public relations for the Ports Authority to accept a little regulation. If there is little doubt we have maxed out on the number of cruise ships coming in, why not cap it to ease some fears? It would go a long way toward solving this little problem, and wouldn't be unprecedented. See carriages, horse.
And if the locals still don't like it, they should complain to somebody with a little juice with the ports -- say, the Legislature. The city doesn't have much say in port affairs.
Still, it's a credit to Riley that half of the site likely will become exactly what the Coastal Conservation folks want. It should also help traffic, so we've got that. The plan won't change cruise passengers' taste but, honestly, it's probably not as pedestrian as the critics say. There is a place for those visitors, and it's not just the City Market.
Opening up the peninsula waterfront at Union Pier has long been a goal of Riley's, and watching him fight the critics makes it clear how strongly he feels about this. This probably reminds him of the opposition he faced when pushing the Charleston Place development decades ago.
That turned out OK, by most accounts. And this probably will too.