Joe Griffith, founder and CEO of Joe Griffith Inc., died Wednesday. He left a permanent impact on Charleston, both as a developer and as a community leader. He also was instrumental in the annexation of Daniel Island into the city of Charleston.
As a real estate broker, he engineered a land swap to allow the development of Waterfront Park, one of the city’s major attractions, in the early 1980s.
He bought several old warehouses on East Bay Street that were destined for the wrecking ball and renovated them into the Lodge Alley Inn, an 87-room hotel that opened in 1982.
Also in the early 1980s, he was chairman of a board that was established to open the Ronald McDonald House, a place where families of sick children could stay while their children were being treated at the medical complex.
He was a chairman and founding partner of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, which has become one of the city’s major annual events since the first year in 1983.
Griffith helped Charleston to annex Daniel Island in 1991 by allowing the city to annex a small spit of land called Parker Island he owned on the Wando River near S.C. Highway 41, according to former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
He then subdivided it among family members and had the property reassessed at a higher value, "which was not to his benefit," according to Riley, to make the property more valuable and pave the way for the annexation of then-undeveloped Daniel Island with the requisite percentage of landowners and the requisite assessed value.
"He believed Charleston would be an excellent steward of the land," Riley said.
After Daniel Island was annexed, the city de-annexed Griffith's property, which was closer to Mount Pleasant, Riley said.
The former mayor called Griffith "an exemplary citizen and a great man. He gave tirelessly to his community and felt that that was his duty."
Griffith was a past president of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and past chairman of the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments, the agency that coordinates regional planning in the Charleston area. He was a board member of the Patriots Point Development Authority, the Medical University of South Carolina’s Board of Visitors and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.
More recently, he donated $100,000 to build Charleston’s Miracle League baseball park for disabled children in West Ashley. Joe Griffith Miracle Field, which opened off St. Andrews Boulevard in 2004, is named in his honor.
Griffith grew up on Coming Street in Charleston and graduated from Saint Bernard's College in Cullman, Ala., with the idea of becoming a priest. Although he ended up choosing another career path, he remained strong in his Catholic faith and was an adviser to Bishops Unterkoefler, Thompson and Guglielmone. He was recognized for his service as a Knight of Malta and a Knight of Saint Gregory.
Services will be handled by James A. McAlister Funerals and Cremation.
He and his wife Bette have five children.