Guests climbing the spiral staircase at Charleston Place do so this week under the watchful eyes of a cadre of security agents.
Several State Law Enforcement Department agents in dark blazers patrolled the lobby Sunday afternoon. Three or four others stood above the big crystal chandelier at the top of the stairs. A sign warns visitors that the ballrooms to the left are off limits to the public this week.
The meeting rooms are reserved for some 2,000 Southern politicians and guests from 16 states attending the Southern Legislative Conference. The conference opened Sunday and continues through Wednesday morning.
A private security force in white polo shirts circulated in the lobby Sunday, supplemented by Charleston Place staffers in navy polo shirts. State troopers in gray uniforms directed traffic around the horse fountain near the parking garage. Charleston police in blue uniforms checked cars outside the other entrance.
The garage was full of late-model cars, many of them with one- or two-digit license plates, such as the Lexus with S.C. Representative 9 and the Jeep Cherokee with N.C. House 3.
State House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said last week that the $1 million conference is paid for by private donations, using no tax money. He estimated the impact on the local economy at $3.5 million, and he also was hoping the exposure boosts local tourism, as well as brings more businesses to the state.
Organizers promise to give policymakers tips on how to make the most of declining budgets and increasing demand for services. Sunday's workshops focused on ways to attract more industries, including film- and video game-makers.
Today's topics include transportation funding and a look at the S.C. Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance. Tuesday's activities include a tour of the Port of Charleston.