April 2018 Park of the Month: Joe Riley Waterfront Park
Excerpts from Joe Riley Waterfront Park Dedication program – April 28, 2018
“What does it mean when a city gives its most valuable land as a gift to the people? What sites are chosen to welcome all citizens and visitors? What sites do so without charging admission? And what sites give us a sense of the city’s character? Joe Riley Waterfront Park earns perfect marks in all categories, and when I’m standing on the steps of the City Art Gallery looking out at the entire park, I feel proud and lucky. ” – Charleston Novelist, Josephine Humphreys.
After taking office in 1975, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. began plans to transform a neglected waterfront area from burned out wharves and gravel parking lots into a public park. The City broke ground on the project in 1988 and opened it to the public in 1990. Designed by Stuart O. Dawson of Sasaki and Associates, the park has been commended over the years as a blueprint for public parks.
Waterfront Park has won numerous awards, and communities across the country have emulated many of its features. Its creation was a collaborative process, with Mayor Riley at the helm. From the initial walk through the city until the park’s opening day, Mayor Joe Riley’s insistence on excellence, attention to detail, and inspiring tenacity made this park what it is today. It’s only fitting that it will henceforth be known as Joe Riley Waterfront Park.
“Waterfront Park is long, with a relatively shallow depth. We agreed early on that it should be a passive park. The design aimed to provide multiple passive experiences, from the intimate oak grove gardens to the palmetto promenade and the new pier.” – Waterfront Park Designer Stu Dawson.
In 2017 a new seating wall was designed by Sasaki and Associates, led by Mark Dawson, son of the park’s original designer Stu Dawson for the rededication ceremony of Mayor Riley. The seating wall includes text from Mayor Riley’s Speech at the opening ceremony of Waterfront Park in 1990.
“We wanted not only to honor Mayor Riley, but also to provide a sense of his character, his values,” said David Rawle retired close friend of Mayor Riley on numerous civic projects throughout Riley’s forty years of service. “We agreed that an optimal way to do that would be through his own words, specifically his speech at the park’s 1990 opening. Read those words, and you know Joe Riley.”
Looking at the seating wall, one can enjoy the entire vista of the park – and out to the historic harbor, “Rawle continued.” “And, now importantly, one can read the words and know the wisdom and goodness of the man for whom the park is so appropriately named.”
“It has been a pleasure to work with the park’s original designers to add subtle new elements to the park recognizing Joe Riley’s remarkable leadership on behalf of this City,” said Harry Lesesne, executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy. “We hope these new additions to the park will help future generations understand Mayor Riley’s commitment to great public parks as the foundation of a strong community.”
Waterfront Park represents that commitment to inclusiveness, and excellence, for every one of this city’s sons and daughters. In a city known for its porches, Riley made Waterfront Park Charleston’s front porch.