by John Steinberger | December 23, 2018 1:53 pm
Post and Courier columnist Steve Bailey published an opinion piece Sunday which blasted a proposed aquatic and wellness center project in West Ashley. Bailey, a longtime columnist for the Boston Globe and a downtown resident, represents the Old Guard notion that most local spending should be concentrated in the downtown tourist district. The City of Charleston generates about $24 million annually from taxes on hotel visitors and prepared food and beverage patrons, and almost 100% of it is spent on the downtown tourist district. Bailey wrote, “West Ashley has a giant chip on its shoulder, forever sure that it is not getting its due.”
The aquatic and wellness center project in question was proposed by former Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson. It would include a Olympic-grade competition pool and diving tank and a water instruction and therapy pool that could be used to train lifeguards and and water safety instructors and provide physical therapy to local patients and veterans. The nearest comparable facility is in Greensboro, NC. The facility could attract major swimming and diving competitions, such as the Southeaster Conference (SEC) championships. Major competitions like that would attract TV coverage and include video packages highlighting tourist attractions from throughout the Lowcountry.
The Old Guard like to demean West Ashley’s role in the regional tourism industry. Charles Towne Landing is a major tourist attraction and will be the center of attention in 2020 as the 350th anniversary of the settlement there is celebrated. As a minimum, the proposed aquatic and wellness center would bring in thousands of tourists for high school, regional college and masters swimming and diving competitions. A Clemson University economic study projected that the facility would attract more than 54,000 non-local visitors a year and generate more than $60 million in annual economic activity by 2026. A major funding source for the $50 million project could be the bonding of the tourist taxes. It is clear that all of the projected visitors would increase the revenue from those taxes.
Whether you support the aquatic and wellness center project or not, it is clear that West Ashley gets back-of-the-line priority when it comes to city funding. When addressing drainage projects, for example, the Crosstown project, which is already $43 million over budget and the proposed $100 million Low Battery Wall project are alway mentioned by the Old Guard before the $43 million Church Creek Drainage Basin project, which impacts thousands of West Ashley homeowners. The Church Creek project has only received $500,000 in funding to date. West Ashley residents do not have chips on their shoulders – we just won’t tolerate more decades of neglect.
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