Honoring Those Who Have Made West Ashley Better over the last 10 Years

This year’s Westie Awards are brought to you by the letter “P.”

Why you ask? We don’t really know other than it seem to fit when we started listing things that have moved West Ashley in a positive direction over the last 10 years since we starting doing the Westie Awards — Parks, Planners, Promoters, Pioneers, Performers, Parents, and yeah, even Politicians (some of them).

There are several people who have led the progress in a proactive way, positioning West Ashley to reach its full potential. While this list isn’t perfect, we think it’s a pretty good picture of people who are worthy of our praise.

OK, so while we’re probably getting a little psycho with this whole P-thing, it is appropriate that the painter of this year’s Westie Awards issue cover’s name is Patrick Prickett. This painting was part of his art exhibit NeoPop, which was held last month at The Schoolhouse.

Throughout the next several pages, you will see a lot of names of folks, many of whom are past Westie Award winners. But for this year, we wanted to not only highlight  them and the work they’ve done over the last decade, but also take a broader look at the things that these individuals helped build that have benefited the greater West Ashley community.

We’ve come a long way in the last decade, West Ashley. And we’re just getting started …

The Planners
Those old enough to remember The A-Team when it made it’s prime time run will undoubtedly remember the catchphrase from the group’s leader Hannibal, who would always say “I love it when a plan comes together.” No doubt a plan is essential when building anything and West Ashley has its own A-Team in a group of architects, politicians, city planners, and community leaders who are helping plan for a better future for West Ashley.

The West Ashley Revitalization Committee (WARC) comes to mind. Headed by city councilman Peter Shahid, the appointed committee of local citizens is working to build long-term economic stability of West Ashley by revitalizing the unique character of West Ashley and supporting values that assure it will be a great place to live, work, play, invest, and do business.

Last March, WARC released their Plan West Ashley report, which will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of West Ashley’s streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces. The Plan sets broad policies and identify specific actions aimed to enhance quality of life and protect the area’s historic, cultural and natural environment

In addition to the WARC members, West Ashley Project Coordinator for the City of Charleston Eric Pohlman was brought in back in 2018 because of his experience in urban design, architecture, and urban planning. Pohlman is the face for the city in West Ashley and is present at almost every meeting regarding the future of the region, offering his insight and expertise.

From the private sector, fewer people have had their fingerprints on the shaping of West Ashley in recent years than architect Dinos Liolio. While his office is technically on James Island, just on the other side of the Wappoo Cut, Liolio, who was raised in West Ashley and graduated from St. Andrew’s High School, has been working hard to make West Ashley better.

In addition to high profile regional projects such as the Charleston International Airport and the Old City Jail, Liolio’s firm is behind some of West Ashley’s most notable buildings, such as the Louis Waring Jr. Senior Center, Charles Towne Landing’s Founders Hall, and the City of Charleston Fire Station #11, which is currently under construction near the site of the Sofa Super Store Fire. The structure will be a stunning firehouse as well as a functioning memorial to the nine firefighters who lost their lives there.

In addition to his architectural projects, Liolio has been a driving force behind the West Ashley-James Island Business Association (WAJIBA). A founder and past president, Liolio still remains active with the group, which offers networking for local businesses and informational programs to the greater community every month.

The Promoters
There are some folks out there who eat, drink, and breath West Ashley. And while many of them put their money where their mouths are, what’s also just is important are the mouths themselves. Because they are the unofficial mouthpieces for West Ashley and without them we just might not have a seat at the table. Despite being more than 75,000 strong, West Ashley was historically the stepchild of the city. Now we’re the cool kid on the block. In part because of the work of our unofficial public relations team.

A huge part of that team are the folks behind West Ashley United. Co-founders Teresa Tidestrom and Carlton Swift worked hard to build a non-profit (not a Facebook page!) that’s doing real work in changing the culture and landscape of West Ashley. Stay tuned in the coming months to hear more about what they’re working on. In the meantime, they’ve helped give a voice to our part of town through community projects, like clean-ups, public planning discussions, political forums, and a robust community on social media that advocates for West Ashley.

For the last decade, local business owner Geoffrey Richardson has been the cheerleader for the Avondale Business District. An area, which helped ignite the revitalization fire in West Ashley through its organic renovation of a part of town that serves as the welcome mat to West Ashley from downtown. Richardson, who owns Lava Salon in Avondale, along with his wife, also began the chART outdoor art initiative. chART literally changed the look of Avondale, turning ugly old walls into canvases for local artists.

The Pioneers
Richard C. Davis is the king of pioneers, currently, in West Ashley. He has spent and invested tens of millions of dollars buying up Citadel Mall in a bold gamble to do what no one else in America has yet to do: revive a faded mall.

And he continues to invest more money, snapping up national chain stores and their footprints at the mall, in hopes of creating a multi-purpose facility that will bring together housing, shopping, recreation, and transportation.

If he can pull it off, it will literally be alchemy: taking crap and spinning it into gold. That mall was a dead husk with a worse future when he moved in. Since he’s gotten in, he’s landed the offices and studios of a former Hollywood production company, Danny McBride’s Rough House.

And more significantly, he’s gotten MUSC to open an ambulatory hospital facility there, providing cash to cover the bills while he lands another big buy-in. Sure, it may not pan out as everything he hopes (e.g.: don’t set your hopes on a monorail) and some may be concerned it will welcome buildings taller than they like.

But whatever comes will be a damn sight/site better than a bulldozed mall.

John Hagerty and Susan Simons had some of that same vision-thing as Davis when they bought and recast a former elementary school at the corner of Sycamore and Magnolia roads into The Schoolhouse.

Nearly every night, there is some sort of event in the public space of the building, with small business packing it during the day. Genius.

And congregations like Dor Tikvah (Generation of Hope) prove that bigger things can still start out of small beginnings. Originally begun in West Ashley back in 2006 as a minyan (smaller worship space closer to homes where orthodox wouldn’t have to walk as far), the new synagogue has repurposed the old Jewish Community Center (JCC) and brought a new place to worship in West Ashley for years to come. With the help and guidance of Rabbi Michael Davies and congregation president David Rosenberg, West Ashley’s Jewish community can now worship in a beautiful new synagogue next door to the equally impressive, modern Addlestone Hebrew Academy, which opened a few years prior.

When Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital opened its West Ashley doors Pennie Peralta was Chief Nursing Officer. In the beginning, only 50 out of 141 patient beds were active. In the first ten years, emergency services expanded three times and the hospital now operates at full capacity in all areas. Since 2006 they have added 63 additional beds, added radiology services, opened operating rooms, and the free-standing West Ashley Cancer Center. Peralta’s team rallied around her and sought advanced degrees, did research, learned and added technology, improved patient outcomes, and set the bar higher each year, earning recognition from Truven’s Top 100 Hospitals five times,  the Blue Cross Blue Shield Center of Distinction, CMS 5 stars, Leap Frog Grade A, and the list goes on. The hospital recently welcomed surveyors for their third Magnet survey which will place them within 2 percent of all hospitals in the U.S. Peralta is now Vice President of Nursing, Senior Nurse Executive for the Roper St. Francis Healthcare system.

The Politicians
It’s easy to start at the top, Mayor John Tecklenburg, who faced a tough General Election as the incumbent with multiple, vote-splitting candidates on the ballot.

He nearly got the needed 51-percent mark needed to avoid a runoff, and soundly and roundly defeated downtown City Councilman Mike Seekings in the second inning, extending his percentage lead from the first inning.

Tecklenburg’s win further cements West Ashley’s political power base over the well-heeled peninsula.

Tecklenburg lives here, represents here, and wins here.

Although they’re no longer on council, over the last decade, fomer councilmen Bill Moody and Aubry Alexander, along with current councilman Keith Waring are the trio who fought tirelessly to make sure that West Ashley was always represented on City Hall’s agenda, even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.

Charleston County councilman Victor Rawl deserves a big shout-out, too. As this West Ashley politician was who really got the I-526-completion effort back on track. He may no longer be chairman of his body, but now the state is back on board with fulfilling their part of the project, which could lead to better traffic conditions on this side of the river … or Armageddon, depending on who you ask.

But Rawl should be credited for getting what could be the biggest project in West Ashley going again. Whether it ever happens, like Armageddon, remains to be seen.

County Councilman Brantley Moody gets a tip of the hat for getting the county on board with money for a new bike and pedestrian bridge from West Ashley and onto the peninsula.

On the Federal level, Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham went from West Ashley all the way to the Capital building in 2018. And while his vote to impeach President Trump ruffled some feathers of his Republican constituents, Cunningham has remained steadfast to his campaign promise of “Country Over Party” voting against his own party on several measures and helping fight for South Carolina District 1 in the Nation’s Capital. He’s lead the charge against offshore drilling along the South Carolina coast and is working to help lower out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

The Preservationists
A lot of time real estate and historic preservation don’t go hand-in-hand. But Charlie Smith of CSA Real Estate proves that wrong. The local businessman is on the frontline of helping preserve the unique and often forgotten history of Charleston, and West Ashley in particular. Last month he walked along the marsh front in Ashleyville with members of the community and U.S. Congressman Joe Cunningham pointing out historically-significant sites that are being threatened by development. This is nothing new for Smith, a walking history textbook for West Ashley, who once stood in front of a bulldozer as it was tearing down a the old vegetable stand on the corner of Wappoo Road and Savannah Highway.

Noted author, aeronautical engineer, and retired Naval officer Robert Heinlein once said, “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” Another author who is making sure that we don’t forget our history is Donna Jacobs. The Byrnes Downs resident has written two books on West Ashley and is has a feature in each issue of the West Of Free Press called West Ashley Flashback. Jacobs is constantly collecting stories and photos and scrapbooks from the days when West Ashley was known as St. Andrew’s Parish. These stories might otherwise be lost and Jacobs has taken it upon herself to be the unofficial West Ashley historian by preserving these stories for generations to come in her books and newspaper columns.

The Performers
It used to be that if you wanted to see live performances in West Ashley, you had to head downtown. No longer as the number of actors, artists, and performance spaces that have popped up has also grown on this side of the river.

The trio of Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and David Gordon Green (Vice Principals, Eastbound and Down, The Righteous Gemstones) moved a huge part of their Hollywood production company, Rough House Pictures to the Lowcountry  and even turned the old Sears building at the Citadel Mall into a fictional mega-church that is the center of HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones.

While maybe not yet on par with Wilmington, N.C.’s movie-making heyday, HBO re-signed “Gemstones” for a second season, so more work and opportunities for local actors and artisans. Huzzah!

HBO isn’t the only show in the mall right now. Last year, the Cultural Arts Center of Charleston also found a new home in the Citadel Mall. From a full season of musical theater productions to exemplary theatre arts education classes, Cultural Arts Center Charleston is an artful space for everyone in the community. Seasoned theatre professionals Kirk Sprinkles and Scott Pfeiffer co-founded the center and are bringing in professional talent for their productions along with helping young actors and actresses reach their potential.

Venerable Charleston Stage opened an impressive satellite theatre space, The Pearl, off Old Towne Road where smaller productions and other theater groups can produce shows. If Spoleto USA ever gets serious about expanding off the peninsula, there is now a great site not located in a church with full technical capabilities, parking, and seating. And there’s a chance that strip could improve even more if the city goes through with an idea to erect an arts center at the confluence of Old Towne Road and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.

West Ashley has been a hub for local stand-up comedy over the last decade, with stand-up comedy shows popping up everywhere from the Tin Roof, Ms. Rose’s Fine Foods, Charles Towne Fermentory, and the Charleston Sports Pub. But thanks to local stand-up and comedy booker Keith Dee, the Captains Quarter on Savannah Highway has now become a venue for a weekly standup show featuring local, regional, and national talent. Dee’s Creekside Comedy Series was even voted as the best reason to go to West Ashley by another local publication. Now the peninsula has to come to West Ashley every Saturday for professional comedy.

Another local performance group that has been gaining steam in West Ashley and beyond is the story-telling collective known as Truth Is. Founded by Karen Black, once a month Gala Desserts along Savannah Highway gets packed full of folks eager to tell and listen to true stories that range from hilarious to heart-wrenching. While there is usually a core group of storytellers, anyone is welcme to register if they have a story to tell and the guts to do it in front of an audience. The Best of Truth Is was featured as part of Piccolo Spoleto last year.

The Park-ers
This group of residents and projects are ensuring that West Ashley will be known for something other than good place to buy a car — any brand of car.

Everyone knows that green, public spaces add mightily to the livability of a community. This was a lesson former Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. taught us and as a parting gift to West Ashley, he helped lay the groundwork for many future parks.

Over the last decade, West Ashley’s parks options have exploded.

While it’s not complete, the former WPAL site was purchased to become a “put-in” park on the Stono River; Higgins Pier was completed; a new county park will soon open along Old Towne Road. Enhancement plans for the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway have begun, with more in the offing, like the Bender Street park-to-be in Ashleyville.

The number of hands being laid on all these transformations is impressive. Harry Lesesne over at the Charleston Parks Conservancy, keeps the Riley greenspace perspective rolling from his office looking over the community garden near Avondale.

The conservancy’s plan to increase options along the “’Ways” makes perfect, if not expensive sense  — nothing interconnects many West Ashley communities like these linear parks-in-waiting.

City and County councilman should have their hands shook for spending on the aforementioned new parks. A hand should also be extended to Kevin Walsh over at St. Andrew’s Parks and Playgrounds, who with County Councilman Brantley Moody is looking to turn a former blighted commercial strip at the corner of Ashley River and Parsonage roads into a passive, traffic-calming park.

And if you live in Charleston, you should be congratulated, too. Because you’ve bought into the importance of greenspaces and keep voting for greenspace tax collection, so we don’t become an endless strip of shopping centers and frontage roads (read: Mount Pleasant).

After listening to resident’s plea for a West Ashley Farmer’s Market, the City of Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs now offers now offers one at Ackerman Park, which also has a skate park and may also see a facelift in the near future. On Wednesdays throughout most of the year, Charleston Farmers Market Coordinator Harrison Champman assembles an impressive collection of local farmers, bakers, dessert-makers, artisans, performers, and others that bring hosts of shoppers to the park.

The Parents
For the second time, groups of committed parents have forced/shamed the Charleston County School District into doing the right thing for West Ashley.

Two years ago, members of the CCSD School Board and its officials had to eat a plate of crow at the public unveiling of the brand new Stono Park Elementary. Originally, the public voted to raze and rebuild the school, but the district wanted to spend the money elsewhere, rumored to be a better football field in Mt. Pleasant.

So, the district had ignored the vote of the people and decided it would just renovate. Well, a group of West Ashley women led by Meredith Demetre and others galvanized support and forced the district to rebuild the school. It took some time, but the new school opened last year.

This year, West Ashley parents led by Frank Beylotte and Ragan Dubose-Morris tilted at the windmills at 75 Calhoun when the district initially announced its plan to split all middle schoolers in this part of town between West Ashley Middle and the new campus of C.E. Williams.

The idea was to deal with racial, economic, and academic inequalities between the two middle schools

The duo had been attending constituent meetings and were surprised how quickly the plan was introduced, sloppily discussed, and then passed. So, they raised several stinks, and last month the district relented, saying they would erect trailers at the soon-to-open CEWMS site next to the high school.

Dubose-Morris says a detached School Board rushed it through as part of a bigger plan to create a separate (read: even more white) K-12 charter system in West Ashley, which she adamantly opposes.

Dubose-Morris has been backing and tracking with interest a bill currently in the state Senate that would change School Board elections so that seats would be directly elected by the part of town they represent, versus the current countywide system.

If that goes through, then West Ashley parents will have not only flexed their muscle on county officials, but state legislators, too.

Pin It on Pinterest