Jadeveon Clowney leading a circus show

Jadeveon Clowney

So the Historic Charleston Foundation has this new study that says the economic benefit of cruise ships on the city is overrated.

That's probably true, seeing as how the report notes that cruise passengers account for only 1 percent of Charleston's tourists, and some of them never even get off the boat.

All of which raises the question: If the ships have that little impact, why do we need all this drama?

The foundation commissioned this "independent and objective" study in response to the "independent and objective" study commissioned by the State Ports Authority two years ago. That study found the controversial industry pumps about $37 million annually into the Lowcountry.

Everyone was shocked -- shocked -- to find that, taken together, these two reports basically say "I know you are, but what am I?"

Marauding cruisers?

Before anyone gets all up in the foundation's business, understand that this is its job.

The organization is only interested in preserving this city -- a noble goal. But it remains unclear what danger to our "historical and cultural fabric" cruise ships actually pose -- other than maybe flipping over in the harbor, like those numbskulls did in Italy. Is there a chance Carnival passengers might attack Rainbow Row with sledgehammers and spray paint?

The study authors suggest the typical tourist spends about $700 here, while cruise passengers spend about $60. But if the industry grows, the report warns, cruisers could displace other tourists. That's circular logic. After all, the report claims few cruise ship passengers come into the city, much less bother with hotel rooms. Who are they going to displace -- Republican leaders who don't pay their bill at Charleston Place?

The real concern, other than the snooty one, is what happens to Charleston's rep if it becomes a cruise ship hub. That would be a valid concern if we weren't so far from the Caribbean.

Dueling reports

The foundation report notes that the National Trust for Historic Preservation is so worried about the city that it put it on a watch list.

Yeah, after the city's Preservation Society asked them to. More circular logic.

If the entire city was about to turn into Key West's Duval Street, there'd be a reason for concern. But the city still controls zoning, and it's not likely the mayor is going to knock down the Custom House for a "Waves" outlet. If T-shirt shops and tourist businesses are infectious, maybe we should board up Wet Willies before the peninsula is covered in fruity alcoholic drink stands.

Harry Miley, president of study authors Miley & Associates Inc., said that if city leaders are basing their support of these cruise ships on an alleged economic benefit, this study should make them re-examine that position. But they aren't budging, so there you go. Dueling reports.

The foundation plans to offer some recommendations, perhaps that a citizens group monitor the ships to warn of "potential" problems.

Sounds like that's already happening. But so far, there's not much to report.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.