John McDermot, THE POST AND COURIER May 17, 2015 It was one of those rare and risky real estate deals that end up changing the future and the fortunes of a city. As Charleston Mayor Joe Riley prepares to leave office after a 40-year run, one of his biggest accomplishments remains the development of “The Omni” project in September 1986. Now called Belmond Charleston Place, the 440-room upscale hotel and shopping complex filled a glaring urban cavity in the heart of downtown when it was completed at a cost of $80 million. It also provided a life-saving commercial lifeline between a gasping King Street shopping district and the more-traveled City Market area. Nearly 30 years later, the structure is arguably the epicenter of a local economy where tourism is the No. 1 industry. Riley was the project’s public face — and its biggest poltical proponent — but he had plenty of help and financial backing from the private sector. Perhaps no single individual played a more vital and largely behind-the-scenes role than the billionaire shopping center magnate and philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman, who died a few weeks ago in his home state of Michigan. He was 91. “It couldn’t have been done without Al Taubman,” Riley said last week. Charleston newcomers wouldn’t have recognized the King Street of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It and many other once-thriving downtown retail districts had all but lost the foot-traffic war to suburban shopping malls in places like North Charleston and West Ashley. A longtime merchant would later describe King Street as “a no-man’s land” during that era. An Atlanta magazine in 1979 summed it up succinctly: “Downtown Charleston, in many ways, epitomizes the decaying American city.” By then, Riley was already working to reverse the trend. Elected in 1975, he came across a study during his first few months in office that called for a major upscale hotel on a blighted 3.5-acre city block at King, Market, Meeting and Hasell streets. He ran with the idea — hard. Preservationists and other opponents pushed back — equally as hard, blasting the proposal as “Riley’s Folly.” The mayor ultimately prevailed, but almost a decade would pass before work began. Financial clout Taubman entered the fray in 1983, a few months after the city’s original developer dropped out at the 11th hour. He was recruited by the other partners, David Cordish and Robert Embry. Taubman’s analysis of the deal included a stroll along King Street and visits with merchants in April of that year, according to a local newspaper report. “His interest, and his financial clout, have been described by city officials as a tremendous boon to the project,” the article went on to say. Taubman’s enthusiasm and commitment to quality never wavered, even as costs climbed, Riley said. “They ended up putting millions more into the project than they had expected,” he said. But even Taubman had some reservations, at least early on. Riley pointed to a design meeting that was held above a drugstore, in a room overlooking King and Wentworth streets. The normally hands-on and gregarious Taubman was less interested in the architectural details than in the dearth of pedestrian activity he saw on the sidewalks below. “We’ve been here an hour and only three people have walked by,” Riley recalled him grousing. Taubman’s influence as a major retail landlord helped change that equation. Riley said a running joke was that “the road ran through Charleston” for any national merchant looking to lease space in a Taubman-owned shopping center during those years… Read more here.