$70 million hotel could soon rise on old library site

This architectural rendering shows the nine-story hotel proposed on the site of the former Charleston County Library building. This image shows the building as it would face Marion Square, a public park at King, Calhoun and Meeting steets.

Nine years and a lengthy legal battle after it was proposed, a nine-story hotel could soon rise where the unsightly former Charleston County Library still stands in downtown Charleston.

The developer will seek final approval from the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday for the palatial proposal valued at $70 million at 404 King St.

Library Associates LLC plans to demolish the old library and build a 185-room hotel with underground parking, a rooftop pool, ballroom, meeting rooms and intricate details such as copper roofing, gas lanterns and decorative ironwork.

Retail shops would line King Street, and the as-yet unnamed hotel would face Marion Square.

The proposed 105-foot-tall building drew the ire of preservationists, who sued over its height and scale for the area, though it’s not as tall as the nearby Francis Marion Hotel.

The state Supreme Court ruled 3-2 last year that the project could go forward.

Michael Bennett, owner of Bennett Hospitality, a Charleston-based company that owns several Hilton, Marriott and Embassy Suites properties in the region, and business partner Hank Hofford bought the old library and some surrounding property from Charleston County for $3.6 million in 1995. The building has sat vacant since 1998, when the library moved to Calhoun Street.

Demolition and construction should begin this year, Bennett said.

He expects build-out to take 24 months with a possible opening in 2015 or 2016.

Some of the marble used in the library building will be reused inside the hotel, he said.

“I think it’s spectacular,” Bennett said of the hotel plan.

Dusted off after languishing in court, the hotel project could be built during a boom for the peninsula’s lodging industry.

The downtown area’s annual occupancy rate of nearly 80 percent last year and the recent travel accolades heaped on the city have sparked interest from developers hoping to cash in on the city’s popular tourist trade.

The proposed hotel is among at least a dozen new lodging projects slated to add more than 1,500 rooms on the peninsula from the Ashley River to the South Carolina Aquarium and north to the Ravenel Bridge.

Last year, 4.83 million visitors pumped $3.58 billion into the Charleston area economy, according to the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis.

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