CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – We have all spent some time down at Waterfront Park, but this park meant so much to the rebuilding of Charleston after Hurricane Hugo in September of 1989.
Charleston is known for its southern hospitality. The area where Waterfront Park now sits had been a gravel parking lot with overgrown trees. In 1979, then-mayor Joe Riley acquired the land that would soon become the iconic park.
His hope was to show off the beauty of downtown Charleston.
After more than a decade of planning, raising money and getting environmental permits, the city broke ground in 1988. The price tag was $13 million with a projected opening date of May 4th, 1990.
But Hurricane Hugo changed the plan when it made landfall in the Lowcountry on September 21st of 1989.
Winds from Hugo ripped up trees and flooding destroyed the foundation for the park’s iconic pineapple fountain.
Storm damage amounted to $1 million but Mayor Riley was determined to complete the project.
“We couldn’t miss a deadline,” said Mayor Riley. “We had picked 86 oak trees; I actually went to the farm up in Orangeburg with our people to go and pick out the 86 that would be really nice. And then they were planted- Hugo came and wiped them all out. Gone. The block was set to open in May, and we had to find 86 new oak trees.”
He went on to say, “I knew it was important to the community – that they knew we succeeded, that we got our park. So, we worked nonstop, and it opened in May- less than a year after the storm. A part of this is community spirit and confidence – we’re gonna do this, we made it.”
Mayor Riley said the national news depicted Charleston like a washed away city in the storm’s wake. He wanted this park to show people we didn’t go anywhere.
Waterfront Park opened to the public on May 11th, 1990 – one week past the pre-Hugo target date.
Now, the park is a main attraction for people visiting the Lowcountry. A beautiful stop where you can see Charleston Harbor and the Ravenel Bridge. People take the time to walk, fish, picnic or swing in the beautiful area.
In 2007, the park received the landmark award for distinguished landscape design.
Next time you stop by the park, dip your feet in the pineapple fountain and make a wish.
For more on Hurricane Hugo and the interview with Mayor Joe Riley, tune in the News 2’s Hurricane Hugo special Thursday at 8:00 p.m.