Joseph P. Riley
Joseph P. Riley
For nearly decades, Joseph P. Riley Jr. has shown a knack for utilizing the unique historic characteristic of his hometown, Charleston, S.C., one of the oldest city's in the southeastern United States. Even when that means bringing back countless properties on the brink of collapse and returning them to their natural state.

The mayor, who was recently elected to his 10th term, spoke to about 100 guests during a luncheon at the Brown Gym hosted by the Cornerstone Society about his city's effort to protect its historic attributes.

Riley said before the event he had time to stroll through Madison and enjoyed the use of the downtown historic locations and riverfront property.

"I'm especially honored to be speaking in a basketball gym in Indiana. This is big-time," he quipped.

The event was sponsored by the Cornelius O'Brien Lecture Series, which is held throughout Indiana and gathers its name from a successful banker, farmer and manufacturer who was among the first to recognize the need to preserve Indiana's historic buildings and sites.

The event served as the 25th anniversary for the Cornerstone Society, which works to preserve historic properties locally.

Riley commonly tours the country discussing the gains Charleston, which was founded in 1670, has made in historic preservation.

"What we know in this business we're in, is that every time (a building) comes down, a memory is forever lost," he said.

In Riley's tenure, he has become a beacon for preservation planning and urban development by revitalizing some of Charleston's most run-down area into burgeoning economic hot spots.

In 2009, he received the National Medal of the Arts awarded by President Barack Obama.

A big segment of Riley's agenda consists of salvaging historic locations, whether the sites were the victims of fires or ungraceful aging, and then attracting private industries and businesses to build around the restored area.

"Town's and cities are ecosystems. And when they're ill, you have to very careful about what remedy or agents you put into place," told the crowd, using a slideshow to display before and after pictures.

One of his slides featured photos of an untamed portion of land that connects to the Atlantic Ocean. Riley worked for years to transform the large plot into a waterfront park for his residents.

The parked opened in 1990 and includes a pineapple fountain, pier and shelters, as well as canopy of trees. The city later opened its art gallery nearby.

"No one can imagine Charleston without the waterfront park now," he said.

Riley is a big believer that restoring city corner's helps preserve connecting areas.

"You lose a corner and that virus spreads," he said.

Under that theory, Riley has put a major influence on Charleston's Main Street, going so far as to build a city parking garage with shutters to blend in with nearby structures.

But he said the real reason all city's should focus on Main Streets across the country is because they are the "public realm."

"It's a place where, for all time, people come together and have a sense of ownership," he said.