MOUNT PLEASANT — The town is launching a $100,000 campaign to lure newcomers and tourists in hopes of giving its sagging revenues a boost and creating a more diverse community.
The effort is intended also to create a better-defined identity for the municipality while emphasizing positives such as the town's schools, recreation and low crime rate.
Problems with the town's image were discussed Tuesday during a meeting of the Town Council Economic Development Committee.
The town emblem, an oak tree, could use a makeover, some officials said. "It doesn't say much. It doesn't say anything," said Town Administrator Mac Burdette.
The "branding process" will answer the question, "What do you think about when you think of Mount Pleasant?" Burdette said.
The town's 65,000 residents are mostly middle-aged, white, well-educated and affluent, according to recent studies. "That's not a bad thing to be, and it sells. I don't know how you apologize for being a successful community," Burdette said.
But the town's dominant demographic creates a stereotypical image that could discourage newcomers with more diverse backgrounds, he said. "This perception is that we are stuck-up people. Wine and cheese," he said.
Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall said the town is not welcoming to less-affluent newcomers of different ethnicity. "It's almost like a shield goes up. We don't want you over here," she said.
The committee approved advertising for qualified consultants to create a marketing campaign for the town. The proposal goes to Town Council on Tuesday for final approval.
Before the vote, the committee considered a seven-page report prepared by the town Community Development & Tourism Office. It said town finances are burdened by the recession. Revenue from growth- fueled sources such as building-permit and business-license fees and hospitality and accommodations taxes has dwindled. Construction-driven double-digit growth has dropped to anemic levels.
"It is vital for the Town of Mount
Pleasant to take the position of pro-growth and development to create a stronger tax base and more balanced community," the report says.
Burdette said the town is reaching out to developers. It is considering incentives such as amortization of impact fees for projects worth more than $5 million. "This is an effort to level the playing field within reason," he said.
The high cost of homes, which average between $300,000 and $345,000, the lack of a core identity and identifiable downtown and development impact fees are some of the obstacles to newcomers. And Prevention magazine ranked the town the fifth worst city in the United States for pedestrians, according to the report.
"After speaking to locals in the tri-county area, a common perception is synonymous with Mount Pleasant: A pretentious community," the report states, adding that some refer to the town as "Mount Plastic."
Less than a decade ago, town growth was racing along at nearly 10 percent annually, and officials worried that the infrastructure, particularly the road system, would be overwhelmed.
In response, Town Council passed a home-building permit allocation program that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2001. It allowed up to 620 single-family home permits annually, and was the only program of its kind in the Lowcountry.
Critics say the system drove builders to Summerville and North Charleston, where they could construct and market more affordable homes without the hassle of building under the system. Because permits were prized, builders who obtained them invested in large, expensive homes, experts said.
The town has suspended the building permit program until growth reaches at least 3 percent.