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Upper Peninsula Development Could Mean Last Generation Of Blacks Downtown
7/30/2014 3:48:19 PM

Perry K. Waring

As redevelopment of the Charleston peninsula moves northward along the Meeting Street and Morrison Drive corridors, Black residents who now comprise only about 25 percent of the population must become informed and engaged to participate in the economic opportunities revitalization will bring.

Charleston officials are calling the redevelopment the Upper Peninsula Initiative, an effort to strategically coordinate development east of I-26 from Lee Street to the Charleston Neck area. The area includes some 900 acres that previously incorporated sparsely dense mixed residential and light industrial uses.

City officials have tagged the Morrison Drive corridor, once the peninsula’s automile area, as a new digital corridor for high tech businesses. Development along upper Meeting Street includes plans for a new hotel at Meeting and Huger streets and the Charleston School of the Building Arts at Meeting and Pointsette streets.

According to reports population on the peninsula is expected to double from the current approximately 35,000 residents in the next 15-20 years. But the peninsula’s Black presence has radically diminished over the past four decades. Blacks previously comprised some 70 percent of peninsula residents.

“Unless Black residents get informed and engaged as we never have before, we may be looking at the last generation of Blacks on the peninsula,” said Charleston City Councilman Perry K. Waring. It’s important that Black entrepreneurs look to the new development as business opportunities, but it’s equally important that Black residents understand the impact the development will have on them as well, Waring said.

“We tend to be reactionary, but our community needs to become engaged before some things are approved. Redevelopment and revitalization means rising property values and tax rates. Those things are rising so high so fast, I don’t how long it will be before many Charlestonians will be at a disadvantage. Not just Black residents, but whites also will be unable to afford to live downtown.” Black churches especially are vulnerable, Waring added.

Economic development along the corridors certainly will mean business opportunities. But unless Black residents look beyond their traditional roles, most may end up as employees in service related jobs, jobs that won’t pay them enough to live in the communities where they work. “I don’t think anybody’s looked at how the development will impact residential communities,” Waring said.

“Gentrification is a term that also relates to businesses. Black business owners who own their property need to understand the real value. We tend to look at price in terms of what we paid, but if someone pays you for your land and it’s not enough for you to purchase land somewhere else, it’s probably not enough.”

Waring thinks the role of Black elected officials will be crucial as redevelopment moves across the peninsula and other parts of the city.

“One time back, we were happy to get Black people elected. Now we have to hold them accountable,” he said. “We have to inform ourselves and get engaged. We need to come up with a better plan.”

Councilman William Dudley Gregorie agreed the development will bring economic opportunity and suggests Black residents get in on the ground floor. Taking advantage of resources such as the Flagship digital business incubator initiatives is an option. The city recently purchased property on Morrison Drive to house the public/private initiative that provides a work center to start-up high tech businesses.

Between the Upper Peninsula Initiative and the west side Horizon Project which partners the city with the Medical University of South Carolina, high tech opportunities are coming to downtown and the minority community needs to be a part of it, Gregorie said.

Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype said he doesn’t know of any discussions about accessing developing opportunities taking place in the Black community.

“There are some young Black entrepreneurs who are doing some non-traditional things and breaking new ground. I can’t speak of anything definitive, but someone with resources and a good business plan probably could start something,” he said.

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