Friday, March 7, 2008

Mayor Riley Sings Praises of Convention Centers

Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, S.C., told NewsLanc in an interview following his speech to the Hourglass Foundation, Thursday night, that Charleston's Convention Center project has been a resounding success.

While the majority of people, including the local newspaper, favored the project, the support was far from unanimous.

Litigation against the project continued for about 4 years, even reaching the state Supreme Court.

"I'm sure we faced more lawsuits [than is the case in Lancaster]," Riley said.

It would have been a lot less controversial if it had been a much smaller facility, he acknowledged, but he's glad that proponents stuck to their guns and saw the idea through.

When the 117,730 square-foot facility was finally completed in August 1999, "it made all the difference" to the downtown, according to Riley.

"Cities need energy," he said. "It was like turning on a sprinkler on a porch lawn."

Earlier in the evening, Riley had said that he considers the former Watt & Shand building a prime location for stimulating commercial investment in downtown Lancaster.

But there are important differences between Lancaster and Charleston.

Charleston has a marketing area of 600,000 while the marketing area for Lancaster is between 350,000 and 400,000.

Charleston is a port city and, as such, its downtown area has long been a tourist attraction.

The city of Lancaster attracts relatively few tourists, as witnessed by the sad history of Lancaster's only downtown hotel.

The Charlestons Convention Center is approximately half the size in overall square footages as the one being constructed at Penn Square.

Charleston is also the final destination of east - west Interstate 26 which connects to north-south Interstate 95.