The new year began with North Charleston still holding the deeds to the former Naval Hospital and the Shipwatch Square shopping center site, despite a Dec. 31 deadline Mayor Keith Summey had set for completing a sale of both properties.

"We thought it made good sense to focus on getting the (contract) language right instead of focusing on Dec. 31," said city spokesman Ryan Johnson.

"The money for the purchase is in the buyer's escrow account," he said. "We anticipate a closing soon after the first of the year."

Any day now, a company that agreed in late 2012 to buy the two properties is expected to complete its purchase of the vacant Naval Hospital, which is the tallest building in North Charleston.

"Both sides are working on the wording of the addendum that will provide for closing on the hospital, most likely next week, and for Ship Watch, down the road when some important details have been taken care of," said Mount Pleasant lawyer Rick Brownyard, representing buyer Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC, on Jan. 2.

The sale of the Shipwatch property - a large, cleared site across the street from the hospital, at Rivers and McMillan avenues - is expected to follow but has been delayed. Conditions attached to federal grant funds North Charleston used to buy the properties where Pinehaven shopping center and later Shipwatch Square once stood have complicated the sale, according to city officials.

North Charleston has been working to redevelop the shopping center site for years, with the primary goal of attracting a full-service grocery store to that area of the city, which has been described as a "food desert" due to the lack of stores selling healthy food.

The 18-acre Shipwatch property was once home to a grocery store. In fact, when the shopping center first opened as Pinehaven in 1959, it was the largest in the state, and drew shoppers from across the area, but by the time the Winn-Dixie grocery store shut down there in the mid-2000s, the shopping center was largely vacant and obsolete.

A private developer, Monarch Development, bought the shopping center in 2005 for $4.1 million with plans for redevelopment, but ended up in foreclosure. North Charleston then bought the property in 2010, and demolished the buildings to launch a new redevelopment effort.

The deal with Chicora Garden Holdings, announced in 2012, includes incentives to attract a grocery store on the property.

"There will be a grocery store there," Brownyard said in a mid-December interview.

The Naval Hospital was acquired by the city through an auction of surplus federal properties in the fall of 2012. The city bought the 10-story building for $2 million, and just months later announced the deal to sell both the hospital and shopping center properties.

Between the cost of buying and maintaining the hospital building, and buying and clearing the shopping center site, North Charleston has spent about $7 million on the two properties.

A preliminary site plan displayed by the Chicora Garden Holdings group at the end of 2012 called for parks, a grocery store, office space and housing. That plan said the former 10-story hospital would be rehabilitated into a health clinic and senior living with private apartments but communal dining.

"What I can tell you is that both the City and Chicora Gardens Holdings, LLC are working overtime to make this happen as soon as humanly possible," Brownyard said.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552