In 2015, Peter Shahid won the Charleston City Council seat Paul Tinkler held from 1998 to 2007, going on to serve in City Hall for eight years. Now Shahid, who is leaving council after losing his bid for mayor, wants Paul’s son, William Tinkler, to fill his old seat.
Shahid endorsed Tinkler for District 9 council, backing the candidate whose family Shahid has known “for decades.” Neither Tinkler nor his opponent Mike Gastin received a majority of the vote Nov. 7, sending the race to a Nov. 21 runoff between the top two finishers.
Tinkler earned nearly 40 percent of the vote, while some 26 percent of voters backed Gastin. Kenneth Marolda, William “Roy” Gilliard and Francis Marion Beylotte III trailed the top two candidates in the five-person race, splitting the remaining 34 percent of the vote.
Shahid said Tinkler’s familiarity with West Ashley — the candidate has lived in the area all his life — gives him a good handle on the problems afflicting residents. One of those problems is the Sumar Street project, a long-awaited proposal to build restaurants, shops and offices on the site of a former Piggly Wiggly.
In his first bid for mayor, John Tecklenburg said the site was a symbol of underinvestment in West Ashley — and vowed to transform the lot. But the project has recently been stalled and scaled back, and tensions reached a fever pitch this summer.
One vision for the site — a municipal center, private offices and shops, a small park and underground parking — called for a $45 million investment from the city and a $30 million investment from a development partner. Yet after a contentious city council meeting about the project’s perceived worth, council in June failed to back the plan, and momentum on that vision froze.
A pared-down proposal — a civic building and a green space — got a majority vote in August. But the momentary relief among council members belied a long-standing resentment among some residents — that the curtailed project was merely another instance of politicians reneging on promises to the some 83,000 West Ashley residents.
Shahid has long called for more attention to areas west of the Ashley River, including the empty lot at the intersection of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Old Towne Road. He helmed the commission that released Plan West Ashley, an exhaustive, feedback-driven blueprint for improving neighborhoods there, from sprucing up sidewalks to turning Sumar Street into a hub of activity.
Shahid said Tinkler is the best candidate to push the project “across the finish line.” “I think he understands we’ve got to do something with Sumar Street,” the outgoing councilman said.
Tinkler supports the vision for Sumar Street outlined in Plan West Ashley, which calls for a civic center and green space. He also believes the site has sat empty for far too long. “I’m tired of looking at a parking lot,” said the candidate, an attorney who practices with his father, Paul.
Tinkler said residents deserve mixed-use development at the lot. If elected, his first motion as councilman would be to put Option 1 — the proposal for offices, shops and a park — back on the table.
“It does meet the needs and desires of the people over here,” said Tinkler, who characterizes his overall approach to development as “balanced.” He also endorses revitalizing lots along Sam Rittenberg Boulevard: Mixed-use development that doesn’t exceed two or three stories could bring new life to the area, Tinkler said, adding he wants to reduce traffic congestion while keeping his hometown “as residential as possible.”
As host to some 45 percent of the city’s population, West Ashley is long overdue for a “landmark project” at Sumar Street that brings neighbors together without aggravating traffic or flooding, he said.
“They are tired of going downtown and tired of going to Park Circle just to spend time with other people at a restaurant,” Tinkler said. “The city needs to act as quickly as possible to get something out there.”
Gastin sees the city’s role differently. The self-described fiscal conservative said he’s opposed to the city financing the civic building and underground parking garage outlined in Option 1. Before council rejected that approach, the city pledged to fund its portion of the project with a $45 million bond; that bond would be pursued and paid off using revenue from a special taxing district established for the Sam Rittenberg corridor in 2016, and the city intended to contribute its portion of the deal without dipping into its main budget.
In Gastin’s opinion, the site of the former Piggly Wiggly should be incorporated into a proposed private development project to the south of Sumar Street. He said the combined, privately developed site should resemble a medium-density space comparable to Avondale, with green space in the middle and restaurants and shops — and the city, he added, should stay out of the process.
“I think people want a more sensible, conservative approach to city government,” he said.
Tinkler said the city ought to help finance a civic space — in part because a proposed community building would host city employees and meetings. “People are overwhelmingly in favor of having a place where people can gather and be utilized for public meetings,” he said. “That is something that certainly the city has a role in.”
Tinkler and Gastin would both be council newcomers, and whoever wins the District 9 seat will have to work with the mayor. The mayor’s race is headed to a runoff between incumbent Tecklenburg and challenger William Cogswell after neither candidate earned a majority of the vote. Shahid, who recently endorsed Cogswell for mayor, said Tinkler knows how to navigate city politics. Tinkler added his West Ashley roots and legal experience qualify him for the job.
A consultant for private businesses, Gastin has lived in the area for two years. He called himself a “long shot” candidate whose priorities include “smart use of tax money and more transparency with public safety.” Tinkler also noted he wants to ensure police officers and firefighters have enough resources.
Voters will soon select the person to guide District 9, from its approach to crime to its contentious development project. The runoff is Nov. 21, and early voting began Nov. 15.