Having overseen construction of some of the world's tallest buildings, celebrity developer Donald Trump Jr. has set his sights on acquiring the tallest building in North Charleston.
The 10-story former Charleston Naval Hospital at Rivers and McMillan avenues has little in common with the gleaming office and hotel towers Trump has developed, such as Trump Tower in Chicago. However, the vacant government building in North Charleston is an important part of the city's plan to revitalize its economically depressed south end.
Trump is one of two primary developers and financiers working to purchase the hospital building and the adjacent former Shipwatch Square shopping center site from the city, according to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey. Summey said Trump has met with him to discuss the plan. The other developer, the mayor said, is Utah developer and attorney Douglas Durbano, whose company's connection to the project was reported by The Post and Courier in 2012, when the deal was first announced.
Durbano and Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing for the Trump organization, declined to comment prior to closing the purchase of the hospital, which both said is expected in the coming week. Officially, the buyer is Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC.
"I can confirm that the city of North Charleston has indicated that a closing will occur on the 17th of January," Durbano said Friday.
Trump, 36, is a son of billionaire New York developer Donald J. Trump and his first wife, Ivana. This would not be Donald Trump Jr.'s first business venture in North Charleston.
Trump was a one-third partner in Titan Atlas Manufacturing, a North Charleston company that shut down in 2012 after a flurry of patent litigation, leading to lawsuits over unpaid bills. The other partners were Jeremey Blackburn, currently of Mount Pleasant, and Washington state farm owner Lee Eickmeyer.
Durbano, 58, has a more than decade-long association with Blackburn, including a bank they founded in Utah, America West Bank, which was shut down by regulators in 2009.
"We feel the seizure of America West Bank was not only improper but illegal," said Durbano, who is still in litigation challenging the regulatory decision.
Blackburn is not one of the developers, but is now CEO of Titan Atlas Global, a company formed to purchase the assets of the defunct Titan Atlas Manufacturing. Titan Atlas Global leases the former company's building and equipment and sells the same prefabricated housing construction materials, mostly used to create inexpensive homes overseas.
"Chicora has contracted with Titan Atlas Global to assist in various aspects of the due diligence relative to permitting, building upgrades, rehab, design/build for potential tenants and construction aspects of the former naval hospital," said Rick Brownyard, a lawyer representing Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC.
Blackburn also has done business with North Charleston. In 2012, through another company that's no longer in business, he sold North Charleston the miniature wind turbines that sit on the roof of City Hall.
The hospital deal
Summey said that in the coming week the city expects to close on a $5 million sale of the 10-story hospital building, outbuildings and grounds at McMillan and Rivers avenues, which the city purchased for $2 million in the fall of 2012. The deal has been repeatedly delayed and altered since late 2012.
Originally the city contracted to sell the hospital and the vacant site of the former shopping center across the street together in a $9.2 million deal. Discussions about the shopping center site are ongoing.
An initial plan shown at the end of 2012 called for a grocery store, public park and other uses on the shopping center site, and the hospital building would remain, for unspecified medical business uses.
Blackburn said the plan has changed substantially since then, and he thinks people will be impressed, but he was not at liberty to discuss details.
Summey said Trump's interest in the hospital building dates to mid-2012, when the federal government decided to sell the vacant property through an online auction.
"We knew that was who was bidding against us," Summey said.
It's not clear why Trump would have allowed the city to out-bid him, only to later buy the property for more than twice what North Charleston paid. Summey said Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC will buy the hospital with a $3 million down payment and $2 million to be delivered within nine months.
If the final $2 million isn't paid, Summey said, the city will keep the $3 million and the building.
The city's effort to redevelop the area around Rivers and McMillan avenues began with the Shipwatch Square shopping center site, across the street. Once the location of South Carolina's largest shopping center, when it opened in 1959 as Pinehaven Shopping Center, the property was largely unoccupied by the mid-2000s.
A private developer 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 clear the 18-acre site and launch a new redevelopment effort.
The city previously spent more than $4 million to buy and clear the site, with plans to attract a grocery store to the area. In 2012 the city bought the former Naval Hospital across the street.
Summey said the sale of the shopping center property has become complicated by conditions tied to a federal grant that the city used to fund the purchase and cleanup of the property. He said an outright sale of the property to a private company could run afoul of the "public use" requirement tied to the federal grant funds.
The city has been discussing options for public buildings and parks on the site as part of the proposed development. In 2013, Blackburn told the Charleston County Library Board of Trustees that the development could include a public library and a nonprofit children's museum.
Doug Henderson, executive director of the Charleston County Public Library, said there are long-standing plans to replace the nearby Cooper River library branch, as well as other aging branches. Plans for a new library will depend on what North Charleston does with the redevelopment plan and what Charleston County does as far as issuing bonds to pay for new library construction, he said.
"That has all been part of the discussion," Summey said.
The mayor said that if the sale of the shopping center site falls through, he will recommend to City Council that the city build a grocery store. The city's south end has been described as a "food desert" because of the lack of grocery stores.
"At the end of the day, all I'm fighting for is a grocery store," Summey said. "I promised the people a grocery store, and they are going to get one."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552