HomeNewsState of the City Address – Livable, Diverse, Welcoming

State of the City Address – Livable, Diverse, Welcoming

The 2019 State of the City address delivered by Mayor Keith Summey

Not too long ago, before North Charleston was a city, we were known simply as The North Area. For the longest time, we worked to build a city, but today, we’re building our story, one with a robust community. North Charleston is proudly different. It’s the way we prefer it. We’re diverse and eclectic, we welcome everyone, and we learn from each other’s perspective. We are North Charleston.

I’m North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, proud to serve the community which I cherish so dearly. The State of the City is simple. North Charleston is livable, diverse, and welcoming, and it has always been the goal of this administration and every employee in the City to keep improving on a daily basis.  There are many challenges, but working together, there’s no stopping the progress our wonderful city has made.

North Charleston is home to beautiful outdoor amenities, entertainment attractions, and world class businesses, but it’s the people of our city which are most remarkable. From the police officer keeping our city safe to our cultural arts staff providing arts education to the city’s youth, it’s a team effort of individuals taking pride in their work to keep our city progressing.

The city’s responsibilities are multifaceted, but we consider it an honor and privilege to do our part on behalf of the people of North Charleston.

Last year, we added many new amenities for the city’s residents, and for the first time ever, our senior-adult community now has not one, but two senior centers carefully planned to promote health wellness, encourage social interaction, and support ongoing educational opportunities.  With the addition, it rounds out and enhances our already vast recreational and cultural offerings to the senior citizens of North Charleston.

Partnerships and collaboration make everything better, which is why the city has worked with Dorchester School District 2 to bring you a new Aquatics Center. The region’s largest swimming facility will provide a first-class swimming competition venue and a learning environment for students and their families.  The Aquatics Center impact will be far-reaching.  Countless students and North Charleston residents will learn to swim, the school district’s aquatics programming will finally have an appropriate home.

After I became mayor, I fought to bring a number of neighborhoods into the city. They weren’t just underserved, they weren’t served, period.  Although some thought annexing these areas was questionable, it was the right thing to do. Choosing the right path over the popular one is common in North Charleston.

At that time, we were able to annex Union Heights, Accabee, Dorchester Terrace, and Dorchester Waylyn, among others.  Dorchester Waylyn has had recreational and park facilities on the perimeter of the neighborhood, but in 2018, we had the opportunity to build a new community space.  Waylyn Park was opened in June at a once blighted corner.  The neighborhood now has a walkable gathering place and recreation area for the families of the Dorchester-Waylyn neighborhood to enjoy.

Other community parks opened too, one next to Collins Park and another in the Charleston Farms neighborhood. The dog park at Wescott Park was refurbished and opened as well.

North Charleston is undoubtedly the hub to the Lowcountry. Whether traveling by car or plane, or train, all passes through our city. Twenty years in the making, we have replaced the old Amtrak station built in the 50s.  We are proud to open the new, modern North Charleston Transit Center, which is home to Amtrak, CARTA, and Southeastern Stages. To service more than travelers, the Center includes community meeting space and a Liberty Hill Historical Room.  We’ll be able to appropriately tell the tale of the oldest free black community in the state of South Carolina.  Be on the lookout for a grand opening this spring.

In 2019, I’m excited about the city’s new Athletic Center. A three gym facility capable of hosting large community recreational events, as well as enabling our kids to participate in tournament play that was once unattainable due to the high cost of travel.  Having this facility in our backyard opens the possibility to many athletic events for our youth.

Along with the new facilities to improve quality of life, we meet the needs of our young citizens through arts programming and recreational activities.  One of Cultural Arts’ most important roles is to provide arts enrichment to school children, filling a gap in schools where arts education is lacking. Working with local artists, Cultural Arts assembles a variety of disciplines, such as visual arts, drama, arts and crafts, and creative writing. Exposure to the arts is vital to a rounded education and was the reason we pushed for the establishment of the North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary School. These investments will help increase North Charleston enrollment in School of the Arts, one of the county’s best schools.

To ensure our youth have constructive activities when school lets out, the city operates 14 afterschool programs in our community centers, as well as partnering with the school district to serve a recreation component in 11 elementary schools.  And in the summer, we again fill the learning gap by hosting an affordable 8 week summer camp, which provides a full day of educational and fun activities, as well as a nutritional program through a partnership with Lowcountry Food Bank.

Our recreation department staff partners with organizations like Club Horizons to ensure that residents with exceptionalities have a recreational opportunities as well.  And to further open our programs to individuals, we began fundraising in 2018 to build the Lowcountry’s largest inclusive playground, coupled with a Miracle League field.

Arts enrichment and robust recreational activities aren’t required of a city, but we feel it is our duty to serve, and serve well, every citizen, from young to elderly.

One year ago, it was a great honor for me to name Reggie Burgess as the city’s Chief of Police, Through a hands-on approach, Chief Burgess has taken the North Charleston Police Department’s community policing efforts to the next level.  From the Cops Athletic Program for positive interaction with young boys and girls through sports and activities to Reading Patrols, encouraging youth literacy. More importantly, our officers are reaching out to youth on the streets, our officers are more engaged than ever.

Although 2018 saw a reduction in violent crime, including nearly 40 percent decrease in homicides, we won’t rest until crime is reduced to zero. After the city’s first homicide in 2018, Chief Burgess took to the streets to deliver the message of “Stop the Violence.” His message of community and police partnership working together to reduce crime quickly caught the attention of citizens, business and community leaders and continues to this day. The creation of the “North Charleston Peace Walkers,” led by local Pastors and community leaders, have been out in the community promoting peace, crime reduction, and simply lending an ear to anyone.  The group is a part of the department’s RECAP (Rebuilding Every Community Around Peace) initiative.

Every police officer of the department knows the community they serve and want to see it improved. Officer initiated calls rose 50% last year.  However, they can’t do it alone. Everyone must all be willing to report those seeking to do others harm and not stand complacent when illegal activity occurs. No one wins when the activities of wrongdoers are allowed to infect our community.

To the citizens already engaged through crime watches and active reporting, thank you. Officers responded to nearly 120,000 calls for service. Please keep it up and remain vigilant.

In August, the North Charleston Fire Department was reaccredited. Fire service accreditation is a voluntary process designed to identify whether a fire department is meeting and exceeding national standards and industry best practices. The process involves an extensive organizational self-assessment and subsequent peer review of 258 key performance indicators and 82 vital core competencies.  Fully participating in the accreditation process forces a fire department to confront all of the challenges, communicate them to the governing authority and implement a plan for improvement, if required.  Citizens can rest easy knowing that are served by an Accredited Class 1 ISO rated Fire Department. And a busy one too, responding to 20,900 emergency calls in 2018.

A proactive approach to public safety, fire prevention remains paramount to the department, and the numbers tell the best story. 5,166 fire inspections yielded 3,770 fire code violation correction throughout the year. 271 fire safety events were held, 97 child safety seats were installed, along with 865 smoke detectors.  In total, over 10,100 adults and 17,000 children were reached during 2018.

North Charleston continues to be a great place for business, in fact, we believe our city is the epicenter of commerce for the state of South Carolina.

Small business is the cornerstone of our economy, and we celebrated with numerous entrepreneurs, cutting ribbons many times over throughout the year.  We also participated in many large economic development announcements.  Ingevity broke ground on their new corporate headquarters in Park Circle.  Mercedes Benz Vans began full production at their commercial van facility highlighted by a 20,000 van order from Amazon.  With Mercedes Benz up and running, North Charleston is now the only city in the country producing commercial vehicles and commercial jets.

Between major employers, the defense industry, along with port and rail facilities, we have it all. There’s around two billion dollars of infrastructure under development to support the statewide economy.  This doesn’t come without the challenges of truck traffic and rail crossings.  This is why we lobby to ensure the state mitigates its impacts in the community.  The state’s funding of Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities is putting funds back to use in the community.  Maintaining and increasing quality of life in the south end remains a top priority, and at the tip of the spear is our efforts to attract a grocery store, it’s deserved.  We’re willing to go to any length to shed the food desert designation. City Council, city staff, and I are committed to this.  In the meantime, resources like Fresh Future Farm are giving residents access to fresh vegetables, locally grown at the former Chicora Elementary site.

The south end isn’t without economic activity.  Notably, Shipwatch Square saw its first commercial activity in years with Restaurant Depot opening, creating 60 new jobs.

We’re also working with community partners to revitalize assets.  Partnering with Metanoia, the historic Chicora Elementary school will be put back into use.  Non-profit and incubators space will be coupled with an early childhood education center and art space, which will reactivate this once bustling area of our city.

The revitalization of Park Circle over the past 18 years has been remarkable, and we’re confident Reynolds Avenue and the surrounding area can experience the same renaissance. As the private investments move south from Park Circle and north from South Charleston, the city is looking to have a larger impact on vehicular movements and changes to the roadways.  We’ve asked SCDOT to turn over ownership of Spruill and Reynolds Avenues to enable us to add enhanced and safer bike improvements, while being creative in the streetscape of Reynolds Avenue.  Local control gives us greater guidance over this area’s future.

Along this corridor will soon open the MUSC Children’s Health Ambulatory Campus, made possible through a partnership with the city, providing healthcare to the youngest in our city and state with easy access and affordable accommodations nearby.  Recently, I was grateful when MUSC’s board of directors named the campus in my honor, but more importantly, MUSC is expanding the medical services offered to the children of our community.

And on Rivers Avenue, Lowcountry Rapid Transit will offer a regional solution to transit, while encouraging future investment.  We’ll be looking around the country to take the best examples of Transit Oriented Development and propose our own TOD zoning, which adds value along underdeveloped corridors while maintaining the character and make up of traditional neighborhoods. I’m excited for the transformative effects this project will have on the Rivers Avenue Corridor.

The city’s investments and future development, all of it is guided by the Comprehensive Development Plan, which we’ve come to know as Prime North Charleston.  Public participation has been key in the document’s formation, and we’re excited to unveil it in its entirety later in 2019.

Coupled with land planning, staff is taking a harder look than ever at bolstering our climate resiliency through partnerships with Charleston Resiliency Network, the Sea Grant Consortium, the College of Charleston and others.  Efforts and public outreach are underway to first help people evaluate their risk, and alongside we’re exploring long range planning initiatives to mitigate the future risks.

All of the city’s projects and efforts are undertaken by the capable and forward-thinking staff at City Hall. From your mayor to City Council, we have one goal: To leave this world a little bit better than we found it. But in doing so, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun. Queue the viral video reel!

And now, for some things you might not have known.

  • Cultural Arts put on 1,125 outreach and general public workshops
  • City revenues increased 4.2% or over $6.3 million, meaning a stronger economy
  • For the 30th year in a row, the Finance Department earned an Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting
  • The Fire Museum hosted over 35,000 visitors
  • 8,400 adults and 4,240 youth participated in recreation programs
  • GIS implemented technologies to assist in data collection during hurricanes and winter storms
  • Procurement processed over 8600 Purchase orders
  • The stormwater division maintained over 100 miles of open ditches and piped systems

Working together, as one community, our future is bright. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your mayor in this city we all love.  God bless each of you and the city of North Charleston.