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Charleston leaders in talks to prepare for city's 350th birthday

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The Adventure at Charles Towne Landing, where the Carolina Colony began in 1670 when a similar sailing ship weighed anchor in or near Old Towne Creek. Roberta Leary/Provided

Most know that 18 and 21 are big birthdays, and turning 30 or 40 also marks a major milestone. But what about 350?

That’s the looming birthday for Charleston and South Carolina, both of which essentially began in 1670 on the banks of the Ashley River.

While it’s not time to get the party started, it’s apparently time to get the party planning started.

And the city appears more excited about it than the state. 

Charleston City Council will vote Thursday on appointing a group of council members and city staff to work with the West Ashley Revitalization Commission, state government and others to organize a suitable celebration.

City Councilman Peter Shahid, who participated in the city's tricentennial parade and worked at Charles Towne Landing as a youth, began thinking about the upcoming anniversary as part of the city's ongoing effort to revitalize West Ashley. Thursday's resolution is the next logical step, he said.

"It just sort of hit me that in 2020, we'd be celebrating the 350th anniversary of not just Charles Towne Landing but also Charleston and South Carolina," he said. "We've got to do something."

This steering committee will focus on the history, customs and culture of Charleston and develop programs to mark the big occasion. Committee members also will help come up with a price tag for the party.

Back in 1970, the city and state's Tricentennial was a big deal and ultimately led to the creation of Charles Towne Landing, a 664-acre State Historic Site where the English colonists from Barbados first settled some 348 years ago.

The colony moved over to what now is peninsular Charleston by 1680, while the original site — then called Albemarle Point — became a plantation and then much later a state park.

Charles Towne Landing recently underwent a major renovation, one that focused more on its archaeological potential. The historic site also features the ship Adventure, a replica of a 17th century trading vessel that visitors can explore.

The city's move comes two years after the General Assembly didn't approve the Celebrate South Carolina 350 Commission Act, which would have set up a planning group for the 350th anniversary in 2020. But even with no state commission, officials with the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism are involved, agency spokeswoman Dawn Dawson House said.

"We are involved in the discussions," she said. "There is nothing concrete yet.”

While not a century mark, a 350th birthday is still a big deal. Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. — which was founded in 1668 when the Jesuit missionary and explorer Fr. Jacques Marquette renamed this settlement in honor of the Virgin Mary — is marking its big birthday with a July 20-22 festival. And the state of New Jersey did something similar three years ago.

Of course, major anniversaries are pretty common in Charleston, which is among the nation's oldest cities and also has more than its share of firsts (public library, opera performance and fire insurance company).

When Mayor John Tecklenburg heralds the start of the Spoleto Festival USA next week from the steps of City Hall, he'll note that the building became City Hall 200 years ago.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

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