Long-term plans to turn the vacant Garco mill building near East Montague Avenue into a North Charleston arts center are in the works, but the short-term plan is to board up the building to prevent further damage.

That simple-sounding task is actually a big job, as the two-story, 120,000-square-foot building has 156 large windows. The city plans to hire Satchel Construction of North Charleston for the work, at a cost of $37,676.

Mayor Keith Summey said there's been some vandalism, and people have been getting in the building and using it for unspecified but illicit purposes. With countless broken windows, the building has not been secure for many years.

The large industrial building is near the busy Olde Village strip on East Montague, which is lined with bars and restaurants. It's the last building standing from what was once the General Asbestos & Rubber Co. It's still known as Garco, although the original company hasn't existed for decades.

The Beach Co. owns the rest of the Garco property and plans to build about 200 apartments and commercial space there, with work on the site happening this year.

The planned arts center will be needed because the city and its arts community will be losing the use of Sterett Hall, on the former Navy base, as plans for a new container port and railyard move forward there.

North Charleston hasn't decided how to finance the Garco renovations yet. The city bought the building for $1.5 million from the Beach Co., and ballpark estimates for renovations run as high as $15 million.

Summey has discussed a plan to take advantage of tax credits for renovation projects by selling the building to a private company and then leasing space, with an option to eventually buy back the building. Tax credits are no use to the city directly because cities don't pay taxes like private companies, but involving a company that could capture tax credit benefits could lower the project cost.

Ray Anderson, special assistant to the mayor, said historic preservation tax credits, the abandoned textile mill tax credit and the state's new tax credit for renovating abandoned buildings are all possibilities.

"I think the mayor and council will have to analyze all the methods," he said. "There are a lot of pieces there."

Melissa Carter with the Municipal Association of South Carolina said some tax credits can be used together, such as historic preservation credits and renovation credits. The abandoned buildings revitalization tax credit was just approved in June, and can result in up to $500,000 in S.C. income tax credits, equal to 25 percent of renovation costs.

Alternatively, the credit can be used to offset 75 percent of property tax bills for eight years, with the approval of local governments. The credit would still be based upon 25 percent of renovation costs.

"This is really new, and investors are just figuring out how to do it," Carter said.

In the near-term, state-owned Palmetto Railways is going through the environmental review process for the railyard on the former Navy base, and Sterett Hall continues to be available to the city and arts community.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.