Vision for Charleston

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Vision for Charleston

First of all, I am not running for office. I am just a small business guy that has grown up in the area, and have a few ideas to share. I have owned and operated a small creative firm for nearly 20 years here in Charleston and my work and service have taken me all over the world. I am a South Charleston boy at heart, the city line went right through my childhood home. I ate dinner in Charleston and slept in South Charleston. I remember riding on the back of my dad’s dirt bike down I64…when it was just dirt. I spent years on the cliff at Fort Hill watching the city grow. I saw the interstate built, the Mall, the Marriott, Laidley Tower, the initial Civic Center renovation—I have seen lots of change.

I am a man who falls way short, but have a love for God, my country, and my family that motivates me to keep going. I love what I do and I love our city. I have traveled to just about every major city in the United States, most of our 50 states, and have visited more than 20 different countries. I am here to tell you, we have something special. We have something beautiful, and we have something worth fighting for. I know we have some exciting options running for office, and I know several of them fairly well, and have heard good things about the others. I would encourage you to get to know (Amy Goodwin, Andy Backus, Andy Richardson, and J.B. Akers) these guys and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring. We have a lot riding on our future, and one of these guys (or gals) will be leading us in the not too distant future.

My vision is to take up the spikes in our parks so people can sit down. To add picnic tables back, and make better use of our transportation system and our state’s tourist attractions. Let me start with a little background…We are 45 minutes from some of the world’s best whitewater rafting! However, we get in a car, drive 45 minutes and check in at an outfitter, hangout for 30 minutes and look at t-shirts and trinkets for sale…get a 30 minute welcome and safety meeting, then get wetsuits, helmets, etc., take another 20 minutes to board the bus and another 30 minutes to the launch location, 30 minutes to unload the boat and gear, and then we get on our merry way. So, it will be between 3 and 4 hours before we ever hit the attraction. I could share similar parallels about bass fishing, skiing and mountain biking as well. Look at what Myrtle Beach does with their helicopter tours…they have dozens of helicopters taking people up for $20 a pop. Is there a way for us to start thinking about this type of transportation for special activities like, fly-fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, etc.? I don’t know…I am just trying to think a little differently. We have to think differently, or we will keep getting the same result. We need to compete! We need to have something that people will consider as a destination worthy of spending their hard-earned dollars.

Vision (Long Term)
I want to develop our Town Center, and surrounding vacant buildings that have good proximity to the transit mall as “The Hub” to the great outdoors. I want to make our great outdoors accessible to everyone. You have heard stories of folks taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain and skiing for hours, right? How many people can afford that…not many. But what if we create that type of adventure and access for more people. We are within 4 hours of half the population of the U.S. People won’t need to go to Colorado for high adventure…they can come to “The Hub” in Charleston, West Virginia and experience “Real Adventure” (and at a reasonable price). We can invite outdoor rec companies to open kiosks or outposts here in Charleston, where we can access more people, process more people, and transport more people…AND make it easier to access what West Virginia has to offer. Picture this—your 15 year son, and 4 of his buddies ask to go to WinterPlace for a day of skiing. They show up on Saturday morning at the Town Center, buy their lift ticket and rent their skis, grab a biscuit for the trip, and then get dropped off at the lift ready to ski by 9:00am. It is a 1 hour bus ride that departs the transit mall at 8:00am, and brings folks back by 7:00pm. We could do this multiple days per week. Now picture this—that 3-4 hour ordeal I mentioned about whitewater rafting travel and prep. It becomes more direct as well. Want to go duck hunting,deer hunting or rock climbing? Go to “The Hub” and get setup with an outfitter, and go make a day of it (or do an overnight!) with a licensed guide who can provide local insights and make the trip all the more productive. These trips might go out in a fleet of Land Rovers, Jeeps, or Toyotas  (or maybe launch from a helopad on top of the mall parking lot), and would help commercialize the great culture of hunting and fishing that we as West Virginians love so dearly. I am not suggesting we make West Virginia into an outdoor Disney experience (and then again, maybe I am), but why not utilize some new ideas and processes to bring happiness to others by building relationships, jobs and experiences through Charleston and the infrastructure we have to promote the great outdoors. We have the transit mall, we have the airport, we have the river, we have the mall, we have the interstates! Come on people let’s get this road on the show! I’m tired of being the last state! I don’t want people talking about our poor coal situation and our drug epidemic. I want them to come and see our great city and our great state…and talk about what an awesome time they had! If we are going to do tourism, we need to do it better! Everyone has mountian biking, forests, and trails…we need to ratchet it up a few notches and compete on an all new level. We could have an urban climbing school in the mall, we could have an outfitter that features a kayak / water safety training facility in one of these big vacant stores. Maybe if we did something like this we could attract someone like L.L. Bean or REI to be one of our new cornerstone stores.

(Thoughts from my daughter Ella)
So I was talking with my daughter about these ideas and she shared some pretty cool ideas of her own. Why not create an arts incubator where we could have a dance studio, and art studio, a place to take music lessons, etc. I really like the diverse use idea, because parents that are dropping off at violin lessons or dance lessons, could go Christmas shopping or meet up for a dinner date with their spouse. This made me think a little further to consider indoor sports training kiosks. We could have judo or karate, an indoor batting cage, a rock climbing center, one on one and group soccer skills—I think the sky is the limit!

Vision (Short Term)
I could go on and on about this…but I will leave that to you and the pros. But speaking of our Town Center Mall, we need to make something happen in the short term, or we are going to have even bigger problems just ahead. As I sat at the bar at Chili’s for lunch this week, the bartender was talking about how big the night before was when Chris Stapleton performed at the Civic Center. He said it was huge! But when there isn’t anything going on…it is dead. We need to get something “going on!” The city has done a great job with Festivall and the Live on the Levee series during the summer. We need to take Live on the Levee indoors to the mall (asap). We need music, some beer vendors…and really not much more—because the mall is set up with retail and food that we normally have to import to the levee location. I believe people would show up in droves at the mall for “Live at the Levee-style” entertainment. We might couple this special night each week in the winter and spring with FREE parking (forgive me father for I have sinned). Let’s make it easy for people to have fun, shop, eat, and spend money! Let’s just try a little bit to encourage people to come out.

(So, I want to take a time out here and say that I am not throwing any stones. I think the city has done an awesome job on enhancing the culture in Charleston. I love it! I just want to throw out some ideas to bring jobs and dollars here. We could have the best bike paths, and the best art walk in the country, but if we don’t have people or jobs here, we will be in trouble.)

Let’s get moving! I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments. Talk to your friends, neighbors and representatives…let’s get some dialogue going! If you ever want to bounce some ideas off me, stop by and see me or just give me a call. Let’s go Charleston!

Peace. & Thanks!


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Comments (20)

  1. You’re right, Steve. We do have something special, something beautiful, and something worth fighting for. It was great to read through the big dreams that you and Ella have shared. Part of my vision for our city is to see Charleston become a dream factory, where our city government is a conduit that turns dreams into reality. Not only are we surrounded by the best nature has to offer, we’ve also been blessed with some of the brightest and most innovative minds on the planet. A great example would be Mark Gunderson’s Do-All-Machine (http://bit.ly/2hNXuNf), which is a blend of art and engineering. While it was built to be an educational tool, the amount of tenacity and skill that it took to create the mechanisms and moving parts that hold it all together is something that perfectly displays the heart, genius, and grit of a Mountaineer. We’ve got amazingly talented people, who need an outlet through which they can turn skill into wealth. Our city leaders need to encourage big dreams as well as foster their success.

    I love that you said that your vision “is to take up the spikes in our parks.” We have to stop looking at our homeless and addicted neighbors as problems, and start looking at them as neighbors. After all, we’re all just a couple of bad decisions away from finding ourselves in similar situations. We’re not going to solve our problems by placing spike strips in our parks and pulling the benches from the sidewalks along our downtown streets. We have to drop the “us and them” mentality. Community happens in our parks and on our park benches. How are we to connect, to have community with our neighbors who need us the most, when the city has taken the seating out of their living room? We have to restore hope to our neighbors who are suffering. We have to look at the Transit Mall as an opportunity, not as another “us-and-them” problem. As “The Hub,” the Transit Mall would become a place that delivers prosperity and opportunity, something that is desperately needed by all of us; especially those who use public transit the most.

    Charleston needs to rethink the way that we pursue and support businesses. We need to adopt a way of thinking that says, “It is the City of Charleston’s privilege to serve the businesses that serve our people.” We need to be known for our love affair with small business, so much so that our small business owners talk us up at trade shows and events around the country and around the world. We need to eliminate barriers and bureaucracy that hinder the start-up, development, and expansion of small businesses. When business owners are struggling to get a permit, our City Officials – including the Mayor – should be at least as concerned as is the business owner, maybe more. We have to wake up and realize that big dreams, like The Hub, are what will propel Charleston forward. We need to realize that bigger government, higher taxes, and most especially BUREAUCRACY all hinder those big dreams. A lot of this boils down to something else that you said: “Let’s make it easy for people to have fun, shop, eat, and spend money!” I’d add one more to that. Let’s make it easy to do business in Charleston.

    Here’s what it all boils down to: “We have to think differently, or we will keep getting the same result.” We have to reimagine the role of government. We need to be more afraid of missed opportunities than of making mistakes. We have to be willing to shift priorities and take chances, maybe even pull up parking meters! We have to stop thinking that the government is the magic fix, because it is not. As a Mayoral Candidate, I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have all of the answers. No mayoral candidate does. That’s why I surround myself with talented people, and then get out of the way.

    The only way we can come together to reward hard work, restore hope, and reimagine our future, is to do just that: come together. We have to think as a community again. The 34,000 registered voters who did not vote in the last Mayoral Election need to believe that their collective voices matter. They need to re-engage, not because it is their civic duty, but because WE, all 49,000 who remain, are our future.

    Charleston is more than the 32 square miles of land that lie within her borders. Just like coal and natural gas are not our greatest resource, our city is not the land. Our city is YOU AND ME. Our greatest resource is US. We have to dream big together again. Charlotte, NC and Charleston, WV were once the same size. It’s never too late to be the city we might have been.

  2. Fabulous! There is a professor at WVU who participated in a community overhaul in Iceland particularly geared toward youth activities. It was hugely successful in turning around drug and alcohol use for teens in Iceland. The model is now being widely used in Europe and he had now been introduced it for the first time in the U.S. to a community near Morgantown. The ideas you’ve thrown out there are very much in line with the Icelandic model. The key is full community involvement. Use your own people. The Town Center is the perfect venue for an activity center. Right now it’s just wasting away. Count me in!

  3. Great ideas! As a mother of 2 very young kids, I worry about what the area will be like for them when they get older. This would be a great thing to keep kids (and adults) entertained!

  4. Great ideas by both you and your daughter. I would day along with that, we need to be diverse in our offerings, we are starting to see an influx of different ethnic back rounds in the community. While WV as a whole is mostly strict in their belief system, however in the Kanawha Valley, you’re starting to see a somewhat liberal outlook as far as people and relationships. Also, the teens and young people need be included in some discussion about what we can do get them out and in the city.

    I’m happy to see you doing so well in your business, it always makes me proud to see SC kids doing well in life, business etc… Congratulations on your accomplishments.

  5. Love all of the ideas! I have worked downtown for years, I eat lunch at my desk because there is no where to go outside to eat, sit, or to just take a break. Bring back outdoor spaces, have the police monitor them.

    The mall does need an over haul, it needs activities which bring people which brings revenue! We have to think creatively and bring in ideas from other cities that have worked for them.

    Parking is an issue, always has been. I think parking for the mall should be free if you can show a receipt from a purchase in the mall on that day. So reverse the parking attendants, free to go in, free with a receipt to come out, or pay if not receipt, simple! It would encourage people to use the mall, and I include myself. I avoid the mall since I don’t want to pay parking, and with our homeless problem I don’t walk to the mall anymore:(. Parking meters downtown should be free from 5:00 p.m. Friday all through the weekend, this would encourage down town visitors.

    1. Thanks Nancy! I appreciate your ideas too! I don’t know how to make any of this happen, but I truly think you and others are onto something. When I am in Charlotte (the suburbs) and in Houston…I don’t pay to park. It is great! I can see where people could abuse that buy taking up merchant spots…but the idea to make it easy for people to conduct business or spend money in our city is a good one. In my line of business, I know that people have a tendency to just do what they have always done…which I have found is not a recipe for success. Again…I am not throwing any stone. God bless these folks who run our government…I just hope we can shake it up a little! Frankly, I think we have to.

  6. A strong Mall, not necessary based on retail, as in the past, but perhaps as others have suggested, a water park, or as you suggested, climbing walls, recreation gateway to the great outdoors, a winter series of concerts, are great ideas. (The Mall already does a lot). The re-furbished Civic Center, and being able to supply breakout events to Conference attendee’s or someone just coming into town for a concert, are essential. It would be nice if a pathway could be created on the Riverside to get around the Union Building on the Boulevard, and provide a pathway from Patrick Street to Daniel Boone Park for Cyclists. It would be nice to have some lookout towers in our own Kanawha State Forest, to give viewpoints and destination for hikers.

    1. Thanks Chris! Never thought about the Union Building thing…great idea! Love the lookout tower idea as well. Would be cool to have tiny houses out there that mountain bikers and hikers could rent to make KSF more of a destination…which would make CRW more of a destination. Keep thinking and sharing (here and with others)!

  7. We hear you, Steve, and please know we’ve had leasing conversations along the lines you propose for well over a year now. We look forward to positioning Charleston Town Center for continued success in the years to come. Thanks, and keep us in your thoughts & plans!

    1. Thanks Lisa! I know you guys are on it. I think we are all in this boat together. I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me and say, “How’s business?” I usually smile and say, “great!”. But you I, and everyone here knows that it is tough…and tough is okay, because it WILL make us better. Honestly, I would prefer “easy” over tough, but this is the hand we were dealt, so we will just have to make the most of it. I used to tell my employees that we only get the 12-pak of crayons to solve the problem…We may think big and have the 124-pak in our mind for the solution…but we only have a box with 12 crayons, and we will need a solution based on the box of crayons we have, not the one’s we want.

      Thanks for all you do! I will be keeping you and the CTC in my thoughts and prayers as well.

  8. Hello Steve your Blog is very enlightening. I think there is endless possibilities of these creative ideas,I think it would be nice to have a tour bus to take tours of The State Capitol and museum with a lunch, I’ve recently heard conversations that some people have never gone inside of our Capitol. Thank you for sharing your views and I feel that changes will happen

  9. Steve,
    Great article. I have felt for years that Charleston could become a hub of outdoor activity that drives and supports an active lifestyle. Roanoke VA is an example of city that has taken a proactive approach that you describe. . They already run a ski shuttle to Snow Shoe, have great climbing gym’s, offer SUP programs, along with bike, run, and walk events. The hold farmers markets and have several micro brews. “Go Fest” is an event they hold once a year that could be modeled in Charleston. Combine your suggestions with an effort to make Charleston a Walkable Community and there would be a good foundation for enhancing the environment for economic and community growth.
    Keep it going!

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