AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF)- Joe Riley was mayor Charleston for 40 years, leading it from a slumping economy to the vibrant city we know today. Tuesday night, he spoke to a full house at the AECOM building, sharing experiences that could help Aiken as it works to revitalize its downtown.
When Riley was elected mayor of Charleston in 1975, the city had two mayor problems: local politics were polarized and downtown was failing.
“That’s the part of town I that everyone owns,” he said.
Strengthening Main Street is something Aiken is trying to do as well. Late last year, the city was accepted into the Main Street South Carolina program, which works to boost and diversify local economies. Riley was the first guest to kick off the Main Street Aiken speaker series.
“Tonight he’s going to share with us the things that he went through and how he’s taken the city of Charleston from where it was to where it is today,” said John McMichael Jr., Aiken’s Business Vitality Manager.
Riley says it didn’t happen overnight.
“Most people thought it was impossible and a waste of time or a pipe dream,” he said.
He says hard work made the difference.
“But we had a group of people like you that had a vision of renewed downtown and were willing to put their shoulders to the wheel and work to make it happen,” he said.
Before that could happen, they had to develop a blueprint to revitalize King Street.
“We never quit,” Riley said. “And the first thing we did was develop a clear master plan.”
Now, King Street is one of the top ten shopping destinations in the country and Charleston is consistently ranked as one of the best cities to visit.
The man responsible for that says Aiken is also on that path.
“And I want to assure you that you’re on the right track,” he said. “That is the future in this lovely, classic, South Carolina City.”
Aiken was one of two cities named to Main Street South Carolina last year. Now they’re in a three year “boot camp” program to receive training on how to improve their downtown business district.