A $10 million wellness project administered by a for-profit, out-of-state company that was poised to launch in Charleston failed to find enough financial support.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg's office announced Thursday the Blue Zones Project wouldn't move forward.
The announcement came a few hours after the company's founder made a last-ditch pitch during a town hall meeting in West Ashley.
"The lessons learned will be applied in the development of new and more effective wellness initiatives here in Charleston in the months and years ahead," city spokesman Jack O'Toole said in a press release.
Blue Zones Project founder Dan Buettner admitted earlier Thursday he wasn't sure the initiative had sufficient support to move forward in Charleston.
"I can only work in a finite number of cities," Buettner told The Post and Courier. "If there isn't interest here, I can go elsewhere."
Buettner, a widely known author and wellness expert, told a group of about 100 people the newspaper's coverage of the proposed Blue Zones Project had derailed the Charleston process.
The Post and Courier previously reported the Blue Zones Project had been met with mixed results in other cities.
"The media has to be on board," he said. "If ... the local newspaper is going to bash us every step of the way, that's a big deterrent."
Buettner first identified the world's five "Blue Zones" in a 2005 National Geographic article. In each of these communities, which span the globe from Japan to Greece, a disproportionate number of residents live past their 100th birthday.
Buettner explained to the Charleston group the environment prompts residents in Blue Zones to move more and eat better, among other choices that extend their life expectancy. He later founded a company — the Minneapolis-based Blue Zones Project — on the premise that American communities could adopt some of these practices, too.
To date, the project has been implemented in more than 40 U.S. cities. It remains active in 26, he said.
The company was invited last year by Tecklenburg's health and wellness committee to consider launching the first Blue Zones Project on the East Coast in Charleston.
The newspaper's coverage made Buettner feel like he was "invited to dinner and got punched in the face," he said. "I just felt like the way it was framed made it sound like we were trying to take over or something like that."
He did not cite any specific reporting that was wrong.
Plans for the Charleston Blue Zones Project stalled this spring when sponsors failed to materialize. Typically, hospital systems and health insurance companies in other cities have funded the Blue Zones Project. But none in Charleston were willing to commit enough money to make it a reality.
Dr. Patrick Kelly, an emergency doctor at Roper St. Francis and a proponent of bringing the Blue Zones Project to Charleston, said the timing was off.
"Unfortunately, it is at a time when Roper St. Francis is expanding. They have significant infrastructure that they have to replace at Roper Hospital downtown. So a lot of the philanthropic dollars are drying up," said Kelly, who attended the meeting on Thursday.
"They would give it if they had it, but it may be at a time when they don’t have it," he said.
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the Medical University of South Carolina and the Medical Society of South Carolina had also been approached as potential sponsors.
Louis Yuhasz, who founded a local childhood obesity initiative in Charleston 17 years ago, heard Buettner speak Thursday but was skeptical the Blue Zones Project would work in Charleston.
"I can’t get the (schools) superintendent to stop sales of doughnuts and pizza at the bus stop," Yuhasz said. "I think we’re at least a generation away from this."
The Blue Zones Project in Charleston would have cost an estimated $10 million over five years. Buettner said the company would lose 25 percent of the funding if it failed to help Charleston reach certain wellness goals, which had not yet been determined.
A loss of 25 percent would constitute "most of our profit," he told the group.
In a follow-up interview, Buettner said he couldn't quote the company's exact profit margin.
"I don’t really do the business part of it," he said. "If we fail, we lose money. It’s as simple as that."
He said it was time to "fish or cut bait," and that he would rather leave Charleston now than watch the project fail several years down the road.
Four hundred other cities have expressed interest in implementing the Blue Zones Project, he said. "We're not interested in working with cities that aren't interested in working with us."