The North Charleston State of the City is presented annually in January by the Mayor and paints a picture of North Charleston’s previous year and the year to come.
2023 State of the City Address
Fifty years ago, North Charleston incorporated to become South Carolina’s newest city, setting a course of progress, perseverance, and prosperity for the people who called the north area home, and during my time as mayor, I have strived to continue the growth of the quality of life for all. Ups and downs have occurred, but it is undeniable that the modern North Charleston is a place that celebrates its inclusivity and diversity while standing as an economic powerhouse in the state.
Services and amenities continue to grow and adapt to meet the public’s need, and I am proud to have surrounded myself with an 1100-person team of public servants. From trash collection to building inspections, our focus remains to make our place in the world a little bit better than we found it.
In what could be the largest coordinated development in the history of North Charleston, the north end of the former Navy Base is poised to look very different in the coming years. After the City gained ownership of the majority of this property from Palmetto Railways, we immediately began master planning the 65-acre waterfront tract with the vision of a high-density mixed-use development with expansive public access and greenspace. We are now actively seeking a public-private partnership to bring our vision to life on one of the Southeast’s most desirable properties. We hope to create a place that enhances the surrounding communities and becomes an amenity for all North Charleston.
The Noisette Pedestrian Bridge has already made the connection to the north end, and even though only open for a short time now, has become a very popular addition to Riverfront Park. The beautifully designed walking bridge has even garnered international distinction, being named one of the 11 Most Beautiful Elevated Walkways Through Nature. This link over Noisette Creek gives a new entryway to the park and expands access to greenspace and passive recreational opportunities on both sides of the bridge.
And while North Charleston was once a city without a public waterfront, through deliberate efforts and projects, we have successfully reclaimed this natural asset for our residents with more to come.
You may recall that the area that now stands as Riverfront Park was once slated to become the site of a frozen meat distribution facility. The city stood strong against it. Fast forward to today, the location is an iconic regional park and the Lowcountry’s premier outdoor event and festival venue. From the Highwater Festival to Riverfront Revival, tens of thousands visit the park each year. In 2022, we proudly hosted Charleston Wine + Food at Riverfront Park in a very successful partnership to highlight the region’s food and those who create it. We already know that North Charleston is the center of the universe called the Lowcountry, but events like these help the world know it too.
Elsewhere on the former Navy Base, steps are being made through zoning efforts and stakeholders to repurpose and redevelop many of the historical structures once used by industry into places of residential and commercial businesses. Big private investments are being made north of McMillan to transform the base, and we’re excited for what the future holds for this area
The former Navy Base is not short on public investments either. The United States Coast Guard is currently building out what will amount to its operational center for the entire country, growing into the largest concentration of Coast Guard assets in the branch of service. We would not be surprised to see this federal investment grow to over a billion dollars.
Over the years, we have worked closely with the South Carolina State Ports Authority for a meaningful balance between the state’s economic needs and our community’s well-being. The construction of the new intermodal facility has begun, and with that, certain public improvements. A new bridge with appropriate and safe pedestrian access will be constructed for a better entryway to redeveloping areas, directly from Cosgrove, connecting with bike lanes on Spruill Avenue.
We’re certain that the former Navy Base will be unrecognizable over the next decade, becoming a major bustling area of North Charleston with big public benefits.
Outside of the base, the port and city are working with community groups on a replacement of the former Sterett Hall gymnasium to locate on the former tank farm site on Carner Avenue. Adjacent to this project will be the city’s third senior center to promote health wellness, encourage social interaction, and support ongoing educational opportunities for our senior population.
Looking to the future, a site for the city’s fourth senior center has been secured in Dorchester County across the street from our Aquatics Center and new Dorchester School District 2 library. That’s two new libraries opening soon for those who are counting. A public service hub is forming on Patriot Boulevard for the convenience and benefit to our residents.
The interior of Park Circle has largely remained unchanged since the incorporation of North Charleston in 1972. The dated facilities served their purpose, but now underway is a complete reimagine of the space to fit the community’s modern needs. The entirety of the inner circle will be redeveloped and include a new community building with a theater and meeting rooms, an inclusive baseball field, performance and event space, nature garden, open green space, walking trails, and most importantly, what we believe the country’s largest inclusive playground.
What do we mean by inclusive you ask? All kids are created equal with the same desire and need to experience play. Play that challenges and inspires them physically, supports and stimulates them cognitively and facilitates an emotional and social connection. A well-designed inclusive playground welcomes children and adults of all abilities to a play experience where everyone can interact and play together.
If you need a visual, head over to the new inclusive playground at Oak Terrace Preserve. This playground is an example of the style which you’ll see in Park Circle, but on a smaller scale.
This is what we’re building for the community. A place for play and happiness for everyone.
Just around the corner at the Danny Jones Recreation Complex, the same story is unfolding. Dated facilities are now being demolished for modern amenities to suit modern needs. The $25 million project includes a 25-meter competitive pool to complement the North Charleston Aquatic Center in Dorchester County, a proper gymnasium for basketball, volleyball, badminton, and a myriad of other indoor athletics, five new tennis courts to meet the official United States Tennis Association standards, a roller rink for street hockey and roller-skating, and a multi-purpose field to meet the growing demands of our youth athletics.
In a continuation of our efforts to expand greenspace throughout the city, a 440-acre park is in the planning stages for the Ingleside tract. The Park would meander through the highlands and wetlands of the Blue House Swamp with access through a series of boardwalks and nature trails. Recreational uses of the area will vary with the land’s topography and ecological features. Ingleside includes a flat, dry, upland gathering area with significant historic and scenic value. The grounds of the property encompasses over 15 acres which can accommodate small parking areas, picnic areas, and other easily accessible uses for any visitor to the park in the setting of historic grounds while within a walking distance of urban populations.
Growth and development are inevitable in a thriving city like North Charleston, and as the built environment changes, our ordinances also must adapt. Our Planning and Zoning Department has worked to adapt, working for the passage of 13 ordinance amendments last year, including the regulation of Short-Term Rentals, allowing flexibility for small artisans to operate outside of our industrial areas, and directing a more equitable traffic study process.
Planning also helps see out the vision of PRIME North Charleston, the City’s Comprehensive Development Plan enacted in 2020 that guides our development principles throughout North Charleston. North Charleston is the epicenter of commerce in the State of South Carolina, evidenced by the businesses that flock here. Spruill and O’Hear avenues are the desired addresses these days and we love it.
We champion large announcements like Elbit Systems of America creating 300 new jobs and SHL Medical creating 170 jobs, which rightly make the headlines, but we contend that our small businesses, our mom-and-pop shops are just as important to the economic vitality of our city.
In 2022, one announcement was made that will have an impact on our city that no one can predict, but it will be positive, and it will be massive. We stood beside Roper Medical on November 16, 2022, and announced the relocation of their Medical Campus to a 27 acre site on Mall Drive. This $1 billion investment in healthcare in our community will be one of the largest, most advanced healthcare construction projects on the East Coast and will meet the healthcare needs of one of the fastest growing areas in the country. The vision of Dr. Jeff DiLisi and his team to build a campus in our city will be heralded for years to come. The $1 billion campus is just the tip of the iceberg for the positive economic and health impacts our community will see.
In 2009, when we stood by the JV Morris Tennis Courts at the corner of Montague and North Boulevard to celebrate the announcement of Boeing’s 787 Final Assembly Facility to locate in North Charleston, we knew it was a big deal, but it was hard to know how big. Fast forward 13 years, there is no better nod of confidence in our workforce than the recent announcement by Boeing and United Airlines, unveiling the largest widebody aircraft order by a US carrier in commercial aviation history. That’s an order up to 200 North Charleston made jets.
Around Reynolds Avenue we’ve seen interest in nearly every storefront for redevelopment. The Star of America Motel is set to reopen, returning to its previous glory, restaurants like Daddy’s Girl Bakery, Rebel Taqueria and the much-anticipated King BBQ will continue to bring interest in the area.
Up and down Rivers Avenue, and in preparation for Lowcountry Rapid Transit, the largest bus rapid transit project underway in the country, Council was eager to see proper, urban-scale development. Much growth in a city is organic, however, this growth can be heavily guided by proper zoning, hence the importance in the Rivers Avenue Overlay District. Development for the public good without the expenditure of public funds. You won’t see big box stores with a sea of parking in the front, but mixed-use developments on the human scale, like the revitalization of the former Navy Hospital. All new developments are required to be more thoughtful with walkability, livability, and transit in mind. Rivers Avenue is the next frontier of infill development in North Charleston, and like so many other areas, will look much, much different a decade from now.
Maintaining the health and safety of properties in North Charleston is the constant focus of our Code Enforcement division. Daily, you’ll find our Code Enforcement inspectors roadside and a bus stops picking up litter. This is a never-ending battle, but our inspectors are persistent and dedicated in cleaning up the community.
We often find that some properties can’t simply be cleaned up and require direct intervention. Code Enforcement oversaw the demolition of 38 structures that posed a life/safety threat to the community, that’s over 1500 since 1994. Two of note now in process are the old dollar theater off Rivers Avenue and the condemned Osprey Point apartment building, eliminating community eye sores and paving the way for proper future development.
Living in the Lowcountry, there always seems to be a chance of flooding. Our stormwater division works tirelessly to keep our drains free of clogs and debris with litter being a big driver of clogged drains. In other instances, drainage projects are necessary. In 2022, the City completed drainage improvement projects totaling almost $3 million in a number of locations throughout North Charleston, including Ashley Villas, Charleston Farms, Forest Hills 2, Dorchester Road at Avian Place, Liberty Park, and Quarterman Lake.
Future drainage improvement projects are in various stages of study, planning, design and permitting for multiple areas including Accabee, Chicora, Midland Park, Charleston Farms, Northwoods and Union Heights.
Nationwide, homelessness is on the rise. To address the needs in North Charleston, Brandon Lilienthal was brought on board as the city’s first Homelessness Coordinator. He exudes passion to help others, and on day one, Brandon began assisting individuals who are experiencing or are on the verge of becoming homeless by connecting them to resources within the community to assist with overcoming barriers associated with homelessness. As the city’s liaison to the unsheltered, he links individuals to drug and alcohol and mental health services, a causality of homelessness. There’s still much work to be done, but Brandon has established himself as a vital resource for those in need.
It takes an outside of the box leader to usher innovative policing, someone who is a part of the community, and keenly aware of sentiments towards law enforcement. The North Charleston Police Department with Chief Burgess at the helm sets out daily to raise community awareness and support and end victimization in our community. The department has seen public trust higher than ever, and the leadership of Chief Burgess is a key factor. He’s proven himself capable to administering one of the state’s largest departments while remaining in touch with the people who he and the officers of our city are sworn to serve.
Taking direction from the racial bias audit conducted by CNA, the North Charleston Police Department has double downed on attracting diverse, multilingual recruits to join the squad, while continuing to seek qualified applicants from the Lowcountry. A team of officers set out for a successful trip to Puerto Rico. Completing the background and interview process while in Puerto Rico, several new officers have come from the trip, and they’re now in training, pre-academy or the academy. We’re always hiring and are proud to offer a top salary in the State of South Carolina for our police officers.
A partnership predating the audit, officers continue to complete the YWCA’s Racial Equity Institute, a comprehensive biased and diversity training. The program is designed to develop the capacity of participants to better understand racism in its institutional and structural forms. Moving away from a focus on personal bigotry and bias, this workshop presents a historical, cultural, and structural analysis of racism. Chief Burgess continues to build a community-focused culture that is admirable.
In looking at the impact of crime in our communities, it was determined that a more comprehensive approach was needed to address gun violence; one that included the community working with us.
Several town hall meetings were conducted, and through these meetings, community groups were identified that were working, from a crime perspective, in our more challenging neighborhoods. Communities that are most impacted by gun violence.
City Council understood the benefit of addressing the socio-economic, educational, and familial issues in these affected areas, and as a result, $1.3 million dollars was allocated to existing community non-profit grassroot organizations. We know police officers are often tasked with being law enforcers, psychologists, social workers, providers of healthcare and safety, and more. It is the goal of this funding to bolster the work of our department to reach further and deeper into the community.
The Police Department’s Joint Operations Center is developing as planned and already seeing early successes. Recently, a homicide suspect’s vehicle was identified from the Center’s cameras, and a photo was sent to every police officer, on and off duty, within five minutes of the incident. An hour later, the suspect’s vehicle was located leading to the arrest of three suspects of this violent crime. Leaning into available technologies help extend the crime solving speeds and capabilities of our officers. Hardware is still being deployed throughout the city, and as the buildout continues, the value of these systems will only improve.
Persistent, diligent, on-the-street community policing this past year led to a 12% reduction in violent crime, an 8% decrease in homicides, and a 16% drop in assaults with firearms. Our officers and investigators should be commended for their hard work. They confront dangers and carry burdens so they do not fall on us or our families, and I personally give each a heartfelt thank you for their efforts to keep our city safe.
The best way to fight fire is to ensure one never starts. The North Charleston Fire Department’s proactive approach to public safety in commendable. 4,335 fire inspections, the installation of 483 residential smoke alarms, and engaging with the community with 234 fire safety events.
However, when a disaster strikes, the Fire Department is ready. As one of only 301 internationally accredited departments, independent examiners have reviewed 258 performance indicators, all verified by on-site subject matter experts from around the country. This welcomed scrutiny ensures our fire services are on par with the best. As a result, the Fire Department is one of only 114 agencies in the world to have achieved this esteemed accreditation while also attaining an ISO 1 Public Protection Classification rating.
The stellar performance from our Fire Department is achieved while also experiencing high call volumes, responding to almost 25,000 emergency calls last year. That’s 270 full time personnel in 18 front line companies, working out of 12 stations, around the clock, to give our residents and businesses the life-saving services they expect.
Steady, purpose-driven work is daily on display, from Chief Bulanow to the newest firefighter. The work of the Fire Department truly saves lives, and their services are expanding. Like our municipal neighbors, our emergency services and developments are progressing west of the Ashley River, as such, a new fire station is underway near the Watson Hill tract to provide services along Ashley River Road and Delmar Highway. We’re growing our community and our services.
There are so many facets of municipal work, and while the big projects get the most attention, the small ones are just as important. Many upgrade and repair projects occurred in 2022, and to rattle some off, we upgraded the suites at the North Charleston coliseum, added a parking lot to Thomas Evans Community Center, replaced the asphalt at Collins Park, installed crosswalks throughout Wescott Park and Patriot Boulevard, repaired the retaining wall at Quarterman Lake, installed new LED signage at Miner Crosby Community Center, resurfaced Cattells Bluff, Langstone Park, Hickory Creek Lane, Silver Creek Lane, and Blue Spruce Lane, Red Tip Lane, Misty Oak Court, Refuge Point Circle, and Livonia Cove, a new warehouse for the Police Department is underway, and new restrooms at Riverfront Park. That’s to name a few. Every year, more to come.
City Council proudly appointed Courtnay Heyward as the City’s Clerk of Council. A long-time employee of the city and a lifelong resident of North Charleston, Courtnay has dedicated her professional career to public service and is now the City’s first African American Clerk of Council. While being a welcoming administrator for our Council Members, Courtnay has brought vigor to the role, ensuring proper transparency and documentation of all public meetings.
The city lost a life-long advocate, and I lost a close personal confidant, last year. The loss of Ray Anderson was a shock to us all, but he will forever be remembered in our hearts, and in the countless projects he impacted during his 26 years as Special Assistant. Ray displayed an unparalleled passion for North Charleston and played a vital role in the planning and building of the contemporary city you see before you today. A public servant to all, the significance of North Charleston is unquestionably better because of Ray. We miss you, my friend.
Progress is often slow, but with a deliberate vision, and a forward-thinking City Council, the ability of our community to attract world-class, innovative organizations like Roper and Boeing is a feat of envy by many, and one we will never take for granted.
Collaboration, consensus building, and mutual respect has afforded us many wins over the years, and with that same cooperative spirit, North Charleston will continue to prosper for our future generations.
God bless and goodnight.