Geography

The City of Charleston is located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean at the juncture of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Occupying 88.14 square miles, Charleston has 7.6 square miles of a vital, bustling downtown which is home to the City’s central business district. The Peninsula’s dense urban streets set in dramatic contrast to the vast expanses of marsh which lay in buffer around the highlands. Over half of the City’s population lives in West Ashley and James Island which lie just to the west of the Peninsula. West Ashley and James Island are a mixture of old and new; older neighborhoods with brick homes and graceful oak trees settle in with newer subdivisions and commercial centers. Johns Island, more rural in character, combines an intricate network of waterways with fertile farmland, residential property and limited commercial development. Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula, which lie east and north of the Peninsula, are among the most recently annexed areas of the City. The pristine Daniel Island, a full 4,500 acres in size, is just beginning to reflect the thoughtfully planned, environmentally sensitive community mapped out in the Daniel Island Master Plan. It is sure to be the future’s complement to Charleston’s historic downtown.
See also: Charleston Area Beaches.

Population

Charleston is the second largest city in South Carolina with an estimated 1998 population of 100,122. Between 1980 and 1990 Charleston grew 15 percent while the nation as a whole grew 9.8 percent. The City’s growth is due to the annexed lands in West Ashley, James Island, Johns Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula.

The Charleston Metropolitan Statistical Area encompasses three counties: Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester. In 1990, the population of this tri-county region was 506,875. More than 95 percent of the region’s growth during the past ten years occurred in the Metro Charleston area. The projected population growth to the year 2015 is an additional 600,000 for the tri-county area.

Climate

Average Daily Temps:
Low: 54 F
High: 75 F

Charleston has a warm climate. In January the average temperature is 55 degrees F; in July, the average is 82 degrees. Humidity averages 86 percent; rainfall, 52 inches per year. The first frost typically occurs around December 10; the last usually occurs in mid-February.

Recreation

As in other coastal cities, recreation in Charleston centers around water. Tennis and golf are popular, too and the mild climate makes them year-round sports. The City operates a municipal golf course and 40 tennis courts. The City’s numerous parks and scenic, tree-lined streets provide ample space and a beautiful backdrop for walking, jogging and cycling. The annual Cooper River Bridge Run, attracting over 25,000 participants, is one of the most popular roadraces in the Southeast. The City’s Waterfront Park, deemed “this generation’s gift to the future” by Mayor Riley, is a popular destination for residents and visitors alike. Hosts of private and County facilities round out the City’s extensive inventory of recreational facilities.
See also: Charleston Area Beaches

Economy

Charleston is the largest business and financial center for the Southeastern section of South Carolina. The economy of the tri-county area has expanded steadily over the past few years. Manufacturing, the military, the State Ports Authority and tourism were the engines behind that expansion. The military alone employed 19 percent of the area’s work force and pumped over $4 billion annually into the local economy. For this reason, there was concern in 1992 when the Navy announced it was shutting down its Charleston base and shipyard. Community leaders rallied together with a renewed effort to fill the void that would be left by the exiting Naval presence. By 1995 a record 1.2 billion dollars of capital investment in this area was figured to bring about 8,000 new jobs.

The medical industry accounts for approximately 16,000 jobs in the regional economy. The primary medical complex occupies an eight block area in downtown Charleston. The medical center includes The Medical University of South Carolina, which employs approximately 7,500 people and has a $1 billion annual impact on the regional economy. Roper Hospital employs approximately 2,170. A third hospital, Charleston County Memorial Hospital, is owned by Charleston County and operated by The Medical University of South Carolina. Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier Hospital and Veterans Administration Medical Center are also a part of the downtown medical complex.

A 1996 Gamble Givens & Moody business survey concluded that Charleston’s economy is sound and growing. Economic boom is evident in the vast newly connected lands of Daniel Island and Cainhoy. The Charleston Regional Development Alliance is responsible for securing about 5,000 new positions, including the Nucor steel plant and high quality tabletop product manufacturer Mikasa for the Cainhoy area. Two other recent additions to Cainhoy are a new administrative facility for health insurance provider, Healthsource and the Cainhoy area’s first school, Bishop England High School.

More than 8 million tons of cargo pass through the Port of Charleston each year. As the largest containerized cargo port on the Southeast Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and the seventh largest nationwide, the port annually handles over 6.8 million tons of cargo and employs an estimated 17,000 people (directly and indirectly). Confidence in the port’s expanding future is evident in BMW Corporation’s recent decision to import and export around the world from these docks. The Port of Charleston promises to be a cornerstone of the area’s future economic growth.

Revitalization and Development

Completed in 2000, The South Carolina Aquarium, showcases exhibits of South Carolina’s waterways from the mountains to the sea and includes thousands of animals and plants. Also completed in 2000, and located adjacent to the South Carolina Aquarium, is the new IMAX Theatre.

The Ashley River Walkway – a combination bikeway and promenade – is in the planning stages and will wrap around the eastern side of the Peninsula. Ultimately, the Walkway would link the new City baseball stadium, just north of Brittlebank Park on the Ashley River, with the South Carolina Aquarium

A major catalyst in the City’s revitalization was the completion of Charleston Place in 1986. This luxury hotel/retail complex draws a steady stream of customers to its shops as well as to neighboring stores and restaurants along King, Meeting and Market Streets. With the Hampton Inn redevelopment, the refurbishment of the stately Francis Marion Hotel and the conversion of the old Citadel into Embassy Suites, this area is experiencing a resounding boom. A well-appointed landmark, Marion Square Park is undergoing a redesign and will be entirely surrounded by development successes and two revered churches.

In 1991, Charleston opened the gates to its Visitor Reception and Transportation Center (VRTC) on Meeting Street. The VRTC represents a significant alliance of historic preservation and tourism management. It is housed in an 1856 railroad freight station. In the renovation of the structure, the City has salvaged the rustic feel of the old depot – original beams and pine floors still greet the Charleston visitor.

Several other developments enlivened the City and secured its position as a wonderful place to live. In 1990, the City completed the Waterfront Park – an eight-acre linear park and pier along the Charleston Harbor entry. The park masterfully combines spectacular fountains, spacious lawns, intimate garden “rooms”, plenty of walking and jogging paths and a long wharf with picnic tables and wooden swings. Additional waters-edge projects afford greater public access to the water, including the Charleston Maritime Center, which will establish a permanent home for the shrimping industry and include a special events pier with public access to the water.

Another extraordinary economic opportunity avails itself as a nearby sixty – five acres, known as Union Pier, offers prime development sites for hotel, retail, office and residential, deep in the historic district. A full complement of boulevards, parks and vistas are planned to ensure an ambiance befitting the historic district.

Housing

Charleston’s signature housing type is the “‘single house” – a narrow house with gracious side piazzas. The single house is but one choice in an ample range of housing indigenous to Charleston. From marshfront condominiums to downtown studio and from four-bedroom homes to splendid mansions in the historic district, every domestic setting can be realized. Charleston’s single family market is strong; since 1987, single family production has averaged 310 new homes annually, and multi-family construction averages at 30.4 units per year.

For years, Charleston has made national headlines for its innovative approaches to providing affordable housing. In addition to the award winning designs, the achievements include the incredible rebirth of the central city and a strong revitalization movement northward up the Peninsula and into the neck area. Through its Community Development Division, the City has provided over 2,000 housing units since 1990. The Charleston Housing Authority manages 10 public housing areas as well as 113 units which are scattered throughout the City. The task of providing affordable housing does not fall to City agencies alone. A variety of groups like Habitat for Humanity, Charleston Affordable Housing , Humanities Foundation, Charleston Crisis Ministries, many churches and dedicated individuals offer assistance in the quest to provide decent, attractive, affordable housing and to prevent homelessness. This production task force is leading the way by generating creative financing and design solutions.

Culture and the Arts

Throughout its history, Charleston has stood as a cultural capital of the South. The performing arts are well represented here with a symphony orchestra, community theater groups and several local ballet companies performing regularly. The Gibbes Museum of Art and numerous art galleries, along with the abundant examples of architectural excellence and craftsmanship, expose residents and tourists to the visual arts. The Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in North America, offers a captivating collection of artifacts depicting lowcountry life from the time of the first settlers through the twentieth century.

Each spring, Charleston hosts Spoleto Festival U.S.A., the most comprehensive arts festival in the country. For two and one-half weeks, the world’s finest dancers, musicians and actors take to the stage in a spirited homage to the arts culminating in a in a splendid finale at Middleton Plantation – complete with symphonic fanfare and fireworks. Simultaneous with Spoleto, the City’s Office of Cultural Affairs offers a highly evolved and sophisticated fringe festival, Piccolo Spoleto, which showcases the best of regional talent. Informal, affordable and often a little zany and off-beat, the typical Piccolo program includes sidewalk art shows, jazz, classical music, film, crafts, theater, dance and much more, including a long list of daily arts activities for children. Piccolo’s tickets average $5.00 but many events are free.

Other cultural events bringing visitors from afar are the annual Moja African-American Arts Festival, Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, Worldfest Charleston International Film Festival, and biannual House and Garden Tours. Other events which attract visitors are the Harvest Festival at the Charleston Farmers Market, the Christmas Parade of Boats in Charleston Harbor and the Christmas in Charleston Celebration on King Street.

Government

Charleston is governed by a full-time mayor and a city council composed of twelve council members who are elected for staggered four-year terms from single-member districts. The Mayor is the presiding officer of City Council. He has no veto power but casts a vote similar to those cast by each member of Council. Regular meetings open to the public are held twice each month during the year. The Mayor is the chief executive and administrative officer of the City which has no City Manager.

Media

The primary newspaper, The Post and Courier, delivers news daily to 112,000 people while 126,000 receive the comprehensive Sunday edition. Approximately 20 other local publications also serve the area’s diverse interests. The tri-county listens to 28 different radio stations with offerings for every musical taste and talk shows for every point of view. Five local television stations and cable services are available throughout the region. A number of free pocket-size publications serve as “what to see and do” guides for both tourists and residents and are widely available in hotels, restaurants and stores, and the Visitor Reception and Transportation Center.

Transportation

Charleston International Airport provides commercial air service to the entire trident region. Delta, Continental, USAir and Midway are the primary carriers. Amtrak provides daily rail service. Two interstate highways (1-26 and I-526), four major U.S. Highways, and seven major state highways serve the area. Interstate 526 (the Mark Clark Expressway) is a new freeway which forms a semi-circle across the region – from US 17S to US 17N.

Charleston has one major bus system. Bus routes serve Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, the Isle of Palms, North Charleston, West Ashley, James Island, Hanahan, and the Peninsula. The Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) which serves downtown workers and visitors has as its focal point, the Visitor Reception and Transportation Center. The buses, modeled to look like trolleys, leave the center regularly and carry the visitors to and from the historic district. The City has developed a number of off street parking facilities within a one block area of DASH routes. Additionally, an expanded rural transit service will be setup by 1997 to operate within the rural areas of the tri-county.

Water transportation is central to the Charleston economy. The City’s shipping port system, which offers more than two miles of berthing space, connects Charleston with more than 100 countries all over the globe. Norfolk Southern and the CSX rail system, in addition to 104 motor carriers, allow for the transportation of cargo between the port and the major industrial markets of the U.S.

Utilities

South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, Santee Cooper and Berkeley Electric Cooperative supply Charleston with electricity. SCE&G also supplies natural gas to the area. Water and sewer service is supplied by the Charleston Commissioners of Public Works. Bell South provides telephone service.

Education

Charleston offers a wide range of educational opportunities for both children and adults. Charleston and Berkely Public Schools System consists of 110 schools and approximately 72,000 students. A nationally recognized Business Education Partnership Program links public schools with business leaders who help shape the schools’ career education programs. A bevy of private and parochial schools offer additional educational choices. Since the founding of the College of Charleston in 1770, the City has been a site of higher education. Today, the College of Charleston is a state-supported liberal arts college and university with an enrollment of almost 10,000.

The Medical University, founded in 1824, includes the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Dentistry, Graduate Studies and Health Related Professions. The Medical University’s enrollment is 2,500. The Citadel offers military education to 2,000 cadets and holds evening classes at both undergraduate and graduate level for the general public. Trident Technical College, with an enrollment of approximately 9,000, offers two-year technical and college transfer programs. The internationally recognized Johnson and Wales University grants degrees in the culinary arts. For other educational institutions in the Charleston area see our Charleston Area Schools

Medical Facilities

Charleston’s medical facilities are among the finest in the country. Five major hospitals, Charleston Memorial, Roper, Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier, Veterans Administration Medical Center and Medical University of South Carolina, are concentrated in an eight- block medical district on the Peninsula. The Medical University is a leading biomedical, teaching, patient care and research center. Its specialized treatment programs include the Children’s Hospital, the Storm Eye Institute and the Institute of Psychiatry. In addition to the major hospitals, Charleston has a number of nursing homes, hospice care and convalescent centers.

Public Safety

Efficient and well trained, the Charleston Fire Department has a class I ISO rating, the highest for a city its size in the state. This impressive rating was achieved in only three years. The Charleston Fire Department consists of 210 employees assigned to one of 18 companies. The average response time citywide is less than two minutes.

Charleston’s Police Department is known nationwide for its innovative law enforcement practices. The department emphasizes crime prevention and police visibility. Under the leadership of Chief Reuben Greenberg, CPD reduced the City’s crime rate by 20 percent between 1980 – 90. The force is currently composed of 314 policemen. These officers are split into 6 teams, four of which serve specific geographic regions.

Charleston County’s Emergency Medical Service, along with the Medical University’s helicopter and ambulance service provide the city with emergency transport.

Information provided by the City of Charleston.

Facts and Figures

Climate:
Average Daily Temps:
Low: 54 F
High: 75 F

Population:
130,000

Unemployment:
3.8% (Jan. 2000)

Income:
Per Capita Income:
$19,600(1997)
Median Family Income:
$43,200 (1999)

Real Estate:
Median Home Cost:
$139,200 (1999)

Top Employers:
Medical University of SC
Crescent Moon Diving
Piggly Wiggly
Boon Secours St. Francis Hospital

County:
Charleston County

Mayor:
John Tecklenburg
City of Charleston – Website

Congressmen:
Mark Sanford  – email

Newspapers:
The Post and Courier
Charleston Regional Business Journal

Utilities: 
Phone:Bell South
Electric: South Carolina Electric and Gas Company
Gas: South Carolina Electric and Gas Company
Water: Charleston Commissioners of Public Works

As of April 2015: 
Median Home Cost: $233,000
Median Household Income (per year): $40,000
Unemployment Rate: 4.5%