The upper levels of the historic former Kerrisons department store building in downtown Charleston, vacant since being ravaged by Hurricane Hugo and a fire in the same year, is joining the region’s rental housing boom.

About 57,000 square feet of the 72,000-square-foot building at King and Hassell streets is planned to house 42 rental units in early 2014, co-owner Gene Poulnot Carpenter said.

The four-story building houses retailers Victoria’s Secret and the recently opened Anthropologie stores on the ground floor.

Carpenter added that the apartment section hasn’t been named yet, but monthly rents will range from $1,400 to $2,600. The apartment designs will retain some historic details in the building constructed before the Civil War, including maple flooring and exposed brick, she added.

“It is a dream coming true,” Carpenter said. “My family has been hoping to do it for years and the time is right and we are very excited.”

The units are being added as the region’s rental market is in the midst of a surge in new developments aided in-part by the recession’s dent in the nation’s homeownership rate, fueling demand for rentals. Other factors include an improving economy and local population growth.

Real Data, a Charlotte-based firm that reports on Charleston’s multifamily housing, reported that strong demand has pushed the region’s occupancy rate to 93 percent in September.

The firm counted roughly 1,550 units currently under construction in the region and about 4,700 units proposed for development.

Real Data predicted in its September report that the region’s occupancy rate “will likely remain level over the next year as renters absorb new supply expected to come online.”

That’s encouraging news for the Poulnots family, which has been planning the apartment project for several years. The construction comes to fruition with the help of a bank loan for an unspecified amount secured by Carpenter along with sister Dale C. Poulnot and brother David Poulnot.

The siblings are fourth-generation owners in the building with their father Edwin H. Poulnot III, who had been president of Kerrisons department store until it closed stores in the late 1990s.

“We determined this to be the highest return and best use of the real estate,” Carpenter said. “Apartments are a growing industry right now, and we want to support the city and its vision about residential living in downtown Charleston.”

The apartments will end a long-standing vacancy for the upper levels of the building, which sustained a double-whammy of damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and a fire weeks later.

The housing plan was praised by at least one local preservation group.

Winslow Hastie, director of preservation and museums for Historic Charleston Foundation, said in a statement that the organization “is supportive of the upper levels of commercial buildings on King Street becoming active and occupied. A healthy mix of uses in commercial corridors provides smart growth and diversity while allowing for a more ‘24 hour’ vibrancy to King Street.”

Other major downtown apartment projects on the horizon for the city’s downtown include Charleston-based Greystar and Prudential Real Estate Investors building a 200-unit apartment complex at Meeting and Spring streets. It is scheduled to open next year.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.