Show me the money! Some Charleston City Council members are waiting around to see what ultimately will happen to almost $3 million repaid to the city by developers of Charleston Place on Market Street in downtown. But while city council waits for answers, some others want to push city officials to allocate the money to projects for which it originally was intended.
During the early 1980s as first term Mayor Joseph Riley began transforming downtown from urban blight to opulence, the federal government showered the city with millions of dollars to improve the majority black peninsula. Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) funds came to the city by the millions to be used as catalyst for urban renewal and economic development.
Riley’s downtown redevelopment began not in blighted neighborhoods of the upper peninsula where high unemployment produced low quality of life standards for Blacks whose per capita income was less than half that of whites living on the peninsula, but on Market Street with a plan that would reinvigorate the economic vitality of lower King Street.
Many questioned why money designated for urban renewal was being allocated to financing a posh downtown hotel where most blacks only could hope to find minimum wage employment. While almost no money was invested in public education or job training for the city’s disadvantaged black population, the 45-year $10 million loan to Charleston Place spurred the glittering growth that today is downtown Charleston. And as redevelopment occurred, black neighborhoods and those who populated them were displaced.
Last month Charleston Place reached a deal with the city to repay the loan with some of the interest, about $22.8 million. Former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington, who served from 1991-1999 and who repeatedly questioned the loan’s repayment and advocated its allocation to those it was intended to benefit, is saying the investment in black communities finally should happen now.
The city has sent the Charleston Place repayment to the Local Development Corporation, a lending arm it spawned to accommodate business loans. Since its inception the LDC has been criticized for its poor record of lending to minority businesses.
Washington thinks the Charleston Place money should more specifically be targeted to minority business ventures. The economic rebirth of the peninsula doesn’t reflect the original intent of the grant so all the Charleston Place money so be spent in black communities, he said.
Current council members James Lewis and Keith Waring agree. But Lewis said council doesn’t have a clue about accessing the money. Nobody knows how UDAG money originally allocated to the city has ended up at the LDC, Waring added. They both are miffed to figure how the money, if accessed, can benefit black communities that no longer exist.
All three – Lewis, Waring and Washington – are talking about the oft-illusive concept of affordable housing, business development and parks and playgrounds. Waring candidly submitted that housing affordable to all but the affluent is all but unattainable on the peninsula. He says the subject is in a grey area and the answers likely won’t be found in benefits to black communities on the peninsula.