A constant barrage of media reports has portrayed Mayor John Tecklenburg as being on a crusade to shut down hotel construction while City Council stands in his way. That assessment is incorrect.
The mayor’s “plans” have gone nowhere because they do not consider or address the issues of growth and congestion in a way that recognizes what is actually happening with development and that will benefit residents.
Without accounting for the mayor’s lack of plans to address traffic, flooding, attainable housing and growth, taking a campaign-friendly swipe at hotels without recognizing the natural consequences of rapid development across all sectors will do little to effect change. But that’s what the current administration plans.
A recent fundraising email from the mayor included a dire warning: “Every property that has the possibility of becoming a hotel will become a hotel unless we act.” The email’s suggested response to this looming threat? A $35 donation. And a moratorium. Which is code for “no plan.”
Yet, when the mayor had the opportunity to prevent what will become one of the peninsula’s largest hotels, he refused.
The parcel at 431 Meeting St. was sold off to allow for the construction of a 252-room hotel. The city could easily have removed the parcel from the accommodations overlay prior to the sale, as it has done with others, and prevented yet another eight-story lodging.
That, however, would have affected the value of the property, which was being handled by the mayor’s former longtime employer, a local real estate brokerage.
At the same time, criticism has fallen on council for not doing enough and for lacking ideas on growth, particularly hotels. Again, those assertions are incorrect. Twice in the past six years, council has shrunk the accommodations overlay zone, removing hundreds of properties and thousands of potential rooms.
Council also amended the hotel ordinance to give the board of zoning appeals broad discretion to reduce hotel development. But there is more to be done.
As I proposed in December 2015, the city must merge its planning department with its traffic and transportation department. After all, growth, congestion and mobility are at the core of this debate.
Taken together, it’s a long-term strategy with decisive action, not a Band-Aid talking point with no discernible plan.
At the same time, when it comes to vertical building, we must look not just at hotels but at all development to get the full picture.
There are about 3,500 apartment units under construction on the peninsula. Once absorbed into the market, the units will create 4,300 car trips a day in a 2-square-mile area.
The numbers and contrast are staggering. By comparison, there are 48 hotel rooms — that’s rooms, not structures — under construction on the peninsula. And unlike apartments, those rooms will generate, on average, a total of 18 automobile trips a day.
To be sure, there are additional hotel projects on the books, but not as many as you might think. Or as 80 Broad St. and some commentators would lead you to believe.
The mayor’s 2016 Peninsula Hotel Study predicted that between 2016 and 2019, 1,303 hotel rooms would be added to inventory. The solution? Moratorium. And, as is the case with most plans that aren’t, it went (and will go) nowhere.
There is good news, however.
Despite the dire prediction, the actual number of rooms added is 618. That count includes the Dewberry (150) and Bennett (179), projects that replaced a dilapidated library and the asbestos-riddled Federal Building, and put those properties on the tax rolls. Funds collected will help cover a $43 million shortfall in the city’s largest flooding infrastructure project that was only recently revealed to council.
Hotel criticism is sharp and often deserved. But let’s heed the data and examine the big picture before proceeding with short-sighted plans that will have no meaningful and lasting impact.
Mike Seekings is a member of Charleston City Council.