Keith Summey has led a tremendous economic renaissance in North Charleston while also helping turn the city into a vibrant and diverse community that people increasingly see as a place to call home.
The City of North Charleston was established as the ninth largest city in June 1972. By December, it was the fourth largest city after it anne…
The economic upswing continues with Boeing, Mercedes-Benz Vans and other high-quality businesses establishing bases in the city. And with North Charleston now home to more than 113,000 residents, the city’s longest-serving mayor wisely has focused on improving citizens’ quality of life. The trajectory is positive on both fronts.
As North Charleston closes in on 50 years as a city, Mr. Summey clearly is the most qualified person to balance these essential obligations and continue their upward trend over the next four years. He deserves another term as mayor.
Mr. Summey admits that when he first took office in 1994, the city that had prided itself on being “developer friendly” wasn’t very choosy about which businesses it wanted in the city. Today, North Charleston can be more discerning, in part due to Mr. Summey’s leadership. The city is now a manufacturing hub for the aerospace and automotive industries, and has long topped the state in retail sales. There are jobs available for city residents as well as others in the broader region.
Under Mr. Summey’s guidance, the city enhanced its reputation as the “Hub of the Lowcountry” with a new intermodal transit center. In coming years, North Charleston will be the heart of the Lowcountry Rapid Transit bus system that could change the way tri-county residents commute. Mayor Summey correctly recognizes infill development opportunities for retail and housing that could emerge from putting the right planning and zoning in place along the route ahead of the mass transit system.
Whoever succeeded Joe Riley as Charleston’s mayor would have an especially difficult task. That has proven to be true for John Tecklenburg, who has contended with an antagonistic City Council while maintaining a steady focus on the existential threat of flooding, reining in hotel development and short-term rentals, untangling traffic and getting more money for affordable housing.
Mr. Summey supports an increased emphasis on infill development and greater density that will be part of the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan to be updated in 2020. The document will provide City Council with a road map to a much-needed modernization of the city’s zoning codes.
We are encouraged that he is pushing for more connectivity and the use of the Complete Streets program to make the city’s often hazardous roads safer for cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Mayor Summey is justifiably proud of the city’s two new community centers that already have 2,000 members, and two more centers on the way for the Wescott and Chicora areas. The aquatic center under construction off Patriot Boulevard and a new three-gym complex near Rivers Avenue and Remount Road also will double as opportunities to attract visitors for events that will mean added revenue for the city and area businesses.
North Charleston is one of the few areas in the Lowcountry where workforce housing is available, but the city’s growing popularity has caused prices to increase in new developments and in some older neighborhoods such as Park Circle. Mr. Summey intends to work with a builder experienced in affordable housing to construct new homes when land becomes available near the under-construction port access road in the south end of the city. Also, nearly 100 lots on former North Charleston Housing Authority property are being developed as workforce housing, with prices starting around $200,000. And the city is working with a private developer who owns 40 lots in Union Heights.
Mr. Summey, who sees room for high-rise housing, continues to work toward the redevelopment of the former Navy base, where he says “we can finally have a downtown.”
Mr. Summey wants to put a new community center in the south end of the city, but the most pressing need is for a grocery store that hasn’t materialized despite the city dangling money to various grocers. He must continue to search for a solution.
Violent crime decreased in 2018, but homicides are up 31 percent so far this year. The promotion of North Charleston native Reggie Burgess to police chief has earned good early reviews as the department redeploys its officers and works on improving its relationship with a sometimes-skeptical community.
A hallmark of Mr. Summey’s tenure as mayor, and previously as chairman of Charleston County Council, has been his ability to build consensus among disparate points of view. That skill will be needed more than ever as North Charleston continues to diversify and younger residents become more engaged with City Hall, something we would like to see reflected on City Council. As part of that process, Mr. Summey should heed concerns that some residents, particularly in the economically challenged south end, have not been sufficiently heard. We are confident he is up to the challenge.
At a time when so many critical decisions about North Charleston’s future are to be made, residents need someone who can guide the city on both economic growth and quality of life.
Voters should opt for Mr. Summey’s experience and leadership, and reelect him as mayor on Nov. 5.