Too many hotels? Candidates clash over issue

Construction crew works on the Hyatt hotel development at the Midtown in 2014 near King and Spiring streets in downtown Charleston.

Charleston’s hotel boom has become a new topic in the city’s mayoral race, with the two candidates sparring over whether City Hall should slow it down for at least a year.

Businessman and mayoral hopeful John Tecklenburg called for a hotel moratorium Wednesday, one day after he made the Nov. 17 runoff against state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis.

Tecklenburg’s proposed one-year moratorium would apply only to proposed hotels on the peninsula — and not to hotel projects that already have begun the city’s approval process.

“I just feel like we need to ask the question: When is enough enough in terms of hotel rooms on the peninsula?” he said. “I really feel a need to make sure that Charleston has diversity within its economic development and future.” He said if the city allows a hotel on every corner, then there won’t be any real estate left in the city for offices or other kinds of businesses.

The Stavrinakis campaign disagreed with the approach.

“Moratoriums are arbitrary job killers and should only be used in emergencies,” campaign spokesman Tyler Jones said.

“Leon is committed to thoroughly evaluating each proposed project on its own merit, which must include substantial public input, and will only move forward with ones that are fair to residents, consistent with the surrounding neighborhoods and ultimately good for the city,” Jones said.

Tecklenburg’s call for a hotel moratorium is part of a larger call to revisit other contested zoning issues, including the Sergeant Jasper site downtown, as well as the city’s so-called “gathering places” outside downtown.

Placing a moratorium on any new private enterprise can trigger a backlash, as the city saw recently when it tried to ban new establishments serving alcohol after midnight in its entertainment district.

Tecklenburg’s hotel moratorium idea did not sit well with Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, whose group endorses Stavrinakis for mayor.

“Businesses look at a no-growth moratorium and they think the community is not open to making sound decisions,” he said Thursday. “We want to send a message that we are open for business.”

He noted Charleston competes with 382 other metropolitan areas for business, adding, “Before we call a halt to anything, people need to sit down and talk about it. The chamber supports a growth ethic. How do we continue the momentum we have going forward?”

Dan Blumenstock, director of Lowcountry Hotels, was not happy to hear a mayoral candidate suggesting it was time to put a moratorium on hotels.

“I think that the hotel industry is a thriving industry for the entire Charleston area,” he said. “We’re significant property taxpayers. We’re significant employers ... so I was very disappointed to see something like this coming from somebody that is looking at being a new leader in our community. ... I get very concerned when government begins to overreach.”

The wave of new hotels — several are under construction or in the planning stage — has been driven by Charleston’s accolades as a top tourist destination and its stable occupancy rate.

Downtown has seen almost 400 new hotel rooms added so far this year, an increase of more than 10 percent. It currently has 3,944 hotel rooms, said Perrin Lawson of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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Another 370 rooms are currently under construction, including an addition at the Restoration on King, The Dewberry and the Bennett Hotel on Marion Square. Another is planned for 415 Meeting St., site of the old Burris Liquors store.

The downtown hotel occupancy rate for 2014 was 81.3 percent — at a $189.61 average daily rate, according to the bureau.

Tecklenburg’s employer had a role in the hotel boom.

He works as a commercial broker for Crawford Clement & Thornhill, which helped create Midtown. The project includes the recently opened Hyatt Place and the adjoining Hyatt House, which have 304 rooms and separate lobbies but a common pool and fitness area.

Tecklenburg said his idea is not a new one: City Council approved a similar hotel moratorium in 1997 for about a year, as it reconsidered its zoning for hotels downtown — a process that led to the current ban on hotels larger than 50 rooms below Calhoun Street.

Tecklenburg served as the city’s economic development director at the time. Mayor Joe Riley, who hired Tecklenburg, has remained neutral in this year’s mayoral race and declined comment for this story.

Warren Wise and Allison Prang contributed to this report. Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.

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