Tourists have outnumbered Charleston area residents by about 10-to-1 on an annual basis over the past few years.
That’s obviously good news for the local tourism economy, which employs thousands and helps keep the city prosperous. But it presents some challenges as well, including finding the right balance between hotels and just about everything else.
Mayor John Tecklenburg and his team are rightly concerned that the balance is tipping too far toward hotels, at least on the peninsula.
And the growth in new hotels doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In a recent report by commercial real estate firm CBRE, only three cities in the United States — Louisville, Ky., Nashville and Dallas — added more hotel supply than Charleston in the third quarter of last year.
“We have too many hotels in our downtown in comparison to other uses,” Planning Director Jacob Lindsey said Thursday.
The fact that hotel occupancy in the Charleston area remains much higher than the national average — 78 percent compared to about 66 percent — suggests the region will remain enticing for new investment.
That’s not inherently problematic. People want to visit Charleston and they need a place to stay — and spend their money and pay taxes.
The concern is that the growth in hotels will push out residential and other commercial uses, particularly on the peninsula where high real estate prices are already putting a burden on low- and middle-income residents and small businesses.
In order to prevent that from happening, Mr. Tecklenburg has suggested two approaches that would achieve roughly the same goal.
The most straightforward approach, albeit the more restrictive of the two, would be to simply shrink the accommodations overlay district where hotels are allowable on the peninsula.
A proposal to cut 86 properties — most of which are already in use as housing, business and office space or parking garages — out of the overlay didn’t get any traction from City Council or the city Planning Commission, however.
The more ideal solution wouldn’t necessarily keep new hotels from being built downtown, but would ask instead that developers prove that a new hotel wouldn’t displace significant existing office or residential uses.
That plan would offer a better balance of protecting property rights and preserving a living, working Charleston. But so far it hasn’t gotten enough City Council support either.
Next month, the city will hold a meeting on its tourism management plan. It would be a good opportunity to revisit rules on new hotels.
Hotels are an important part of the Charleston economy. So is everything else.