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Charleston’s Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability will host a meeting with neighborhood groups to review the Evening Post Publishing Co.’s initial plans on Nov. 16. The public meeting starts at 5 p.m. in the city planning offices on the top floor of 75 Calhoun St. Some key points of the company’s plan are:New parks, preservation of the railroad right-of-way between King and Meeting streets where the city hopes to create a pedestrian mall or bike path, and a possible one-block extension of Columbus Street are among the planning concepts. Redevelopment of the nearly 12 acres is seen as a roughly 10-year plan.The plan could potentially create upwards of 2 million square feet of new buildings and parking structures.The first phase would involve a vacant lot at Meeting and Columbus streets.
With resurgent development bringing new apartments, hotels and shops to the Charleston peninsula’s upper King and Meeting streets, one landowner is rolling out plans that could remake nearly three city blocks.
Evening Post Publishing Co., the parent company of The Post and Courier, owns nearly 12 acres along King, Meeting and St. Philip streets. It’s an area nearly twice the size of Marion Square, and more than half the land is vacant or used for parking lots. In all, it’s one of the largest contiguous pieces of property south of the Crosstown.
For city and neighborhood representatives who see vacant lots as eyesores, talk of redevelopment has been received with cautious optimism.
“Something needs to go there because it’s a blighted area,” said City Councilman Robert Mitchell, referring to a large vacant lot at Meeting and Columbus streets.
With large buildings rising just one block south, at Spring Street, Evening Post Publishing has laid out a concept plan that could extend the redevelopment of upper King and Meeting streets as far as Line Street near Interstate 26.
“I’ve been watching that progression come up King Street over the past 10 years, with retail coming back to life and all the new restaurants,” said Stuart Coleman of CC&T Real Estate, which is developing a 300-room hotel complex at King and Spring streets. “I think that what (Evening Post Publishing) will do with all that property will help continue that progression.”
City officials plan to work with Evening Post Publishing to hold public input and planning meetings, to consider the future of the property.
Ron Owens, Evening Post Publishing’s vice president of finance, said the company could break ground in 18 months.
“We hope to start talking to developers in the next few weeks,” Owens said.
The immediate focus of what could be a 10-year redevelopment will be the vacant lot at Meeting and Columbus streets, across from a Piggly Wiggly, and an adjacent parking lot.
“I think it would be huge,” said Jared Lott, manager of the grocery store. “The more homes, and housing, can only be good for our business.”
“Of course, I don’t want any grocery stores over there,” he said.
A master plan prepared by DesignWorks suggests the land at Meeting and Columbus should be primarily retail space, with a parking garage in the center of the property hidden by surrounding buildings.
The site is immediately north of ongoing construction on Meeting Street that will result in a 200-unit apartment building at Spring Street, a 120-room Holiday Inn at Woolfe Street, and a 42-unit apartment complex at Reid Street.
“It’s a great property, obviously, located right on the main entry into town, adjacent to neighborhoods,” said Tim Keane, director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability for the city.
“It’s nothing but a gravel lot right now,” he said. “You’re not displacing anything or dealing with historic buildings.”
Redevelopment would likely involve zoning changes, because the Evening Post Publishing land is mostly zoned industrial or “general business.” The city has been encouraging development that includes a mix of residential and commercial uses, unsuited to those zoning classifications.
“Anything would upgrade the area, but we need to make sure it’s smart growth,” said Mitchell. He expects constituents will be interested in potential jobs, as well as new places to shop.
“The biggest thing is jobs,” Mitchell said.
The company has sought no plan reviews or zoning changes, but has discussed redevelopment concepts with city officials and some civic groups.
In addition to new buildings, Evening Post Publishing’s plan looks at possibly extending Columbus Street by one block to St. Philip Street, preserving a freight rail right-of-way that the city hopes to use as a greenway or bike path, and creating some small parks.
The idea of redeveloping the land comes as no surprise to those who keep an eye on downtown planning and development. The company previously commissioned a Clemson Architecture Center study.
The Clemson study bluntly described the Evening Post Publishing properties as “an urban wasteland” dominated by an “unattractive” newspaper building, and called for building a new newspaper office building, hundreds of homes, and commercial and office space on the company land.
The company’s new master plan anticipates 450 residences, more than 900,000 square feet of retail and office space, and three parking garages with more than 2,100 spaces.
The fate of the newspaper operation is a question left undecided. The Evening Post Publishing building, built in 1952, runs the length of a King Street block and houses company and newspaper offices, printing presses and loading docks.
The company plans to address that section of the property last, after redeveloping vacant land and parking areas.
“I think the point is that, at some point, printing papers in downtown Charleston will no longer make sense,” Owens said. “Right now, it doesn’t make sense to relocate any of that.”
Parker said concepts for the land were developed with an eye on city planning documents such as the Century V Plan.
“One of the things the mayor has said is that he would like to see more people living downtown, and our plan encourages that,” said Parker.
Keane said the direction redevelopment will likely take seems pretty clear, with an extension of the business district between King and Meeting, and residential development on St. Philip Street.
The large main parking lot for Evening Post Publishing extends from King Street to St. Philip Street, which is otherwise lined with homes.
“We’re going to be generally enthusiastic about seeing it developed,” said Andrew Gould, development committee chairman for the Cannonborough-Elliotborough Neighborhood Association. “It’s sort of a missing tooth in the neighborhood, with all the missing buildings there.”
The company plans to work with developers, but expects to retain property ownership.
“We want to continue to be the masters of the destiny of this property, but we don’t want to be the developers,” said John Barnwell, vice chairman and CEO of Evening Post Publishing.
Board Chairman Pierre Manigault said Post and Courier readers will expect the paper’s editorial page to hold the company to the same standards as other developers.
“Our editorial board is always independent of corporate ownership,” he said. “We expect them to keep us in line.”
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.