The mayor of Charleston wants to take advantage of Home Rule tax structure to raise $45-60 million to renovate the Charleston Civic Center.
“This is the only way we’re going to do this. And if it is ever going to be done, now is the time to do it,” Mayor Danny Jones said.
Jones, along with Charleston City Manager David Molgaard, unveiled the plan on Tuesday at Charleston City Hall.
Charleston is currently in the last six months of a five-year Home Rule pilot project. The state Legislature has made it clear, if they continue with the program for another five-years, pilot cities will not be able to create any new taxes.
Jones says he plans to go to Charleston City Council and then the Home Rule Board within the next few months to get approval for a .5 percent increase in the sales tax. That plus the elimination of the city’s B&O Manufacturing tax and a reduction in the B&O retail tax from .5 percent to .35 percent, would add up to $3.5 million per year to put toward a revamped civic center or ‘convention center’ as Jones would like to see it called.
“If we don’t do this [now], we won’t get it done. There won’t be any new civic center and we desperately need that as part of our tourism package,” stressed Jones.
Under the mayor’s plan, the bones of the current civic center would stay but a major renovation would take place. Molgaard says it would go farther than just the inside space.
“Obviously we need to address the exterior…it looks like a state prison,” Molgaard said.
The city manager says the civic center, originally the old Charleston Field House, has limitations, the major problem being space. It’s “land locked” between the Elk River, a parking garage, a hotel and the Town Center Mall. Molgaard says there is one way around that — up. He says the perfect place to do that is to build above the current back parking lot next to the Greyhound garage.
“What we really need is a 20-thousand square foot ballroom space,” Molgaard said. “There’s nothing like it in Charleston. [It would be] subdividable so that it’s state of the art. You can break it up into different meeting spaces.”
Molgaard says an additional 5,000 square feet in “break-out” space would also be included in that aspect of the project.
Jones says unless Charleston puts money into its civic center, it will lose convention business to places like Mobile, AL and Long Beach, CA that have state of the state-of-the-art convention centers. He says with a small increase in sales tax, Charleston can thrive as a convention destination.
“I can promise you, if we’re allowed to move forward with this, nobody will regret it!”
The current home rule pilot project runs out at the end of June.