Summerville residents who have been looking for a downtown community where they can live, work and play could soon get that opportunity.
Town Council on Wednesday approved a $30 million economic development project that includes a conference center, retail shops, a parking garage and 34 condominium units in addition to The Dorchester, a four-story, 66-room boutique hotel with a rooftop terrace and a fine-dining restaurant.
"This project is an answer to requests many Summerville residents have made for an events facility, more public downtown parking, and condominiums where residents can live, work, shop and dine in downtown without having to drive," said Mayor Bill Collins.
Built on a vacant town-owned tract on Cedar Street, and adjoining land the developer Applegate & Co. of North Charleston will purchase, the project will be a public-private partnership, officials said.
The town will bear the construction costs for the events facility and garage with proceeds from revenue bonds serviced by hospitality taxes, and the hotel and condominiums will be paid for by the developer. The town has committed $600,000, or about 20 percent of its annual accommodations tax, for up to 20 years to fund its portion of the project.
The events facility and the parking garage will be owned by the town but managed under contract.
The town considered converting the old National Guard armory into a convention center, but a 2012 study by Strategic Advisory Group showed that the building would not be a suitable location for a convention or civic center, based on the size and type of spaces needed, according to the town's Vision Plan Reconnaissance Report.
The need for more facilities came to light as the town worked on the plan, Collins said.
But not everybody supports the new project.
The partnership agreement concerned councilmen Walter Bailey and Bill McIntosh, both of whom voted against it.
"I thought the plan was good as far as the hotel being there in that location and the design," Bailey said. "My objection was the financing."
He said he feels as if the town gave away the land.
Peter Gorman of the East Historic District Civic Association, a critic of parts of the town's Vision Plan, also expressed concerns.
"I know this is a favorite project of the mayor," he said. "My fear is that if the hotel is not successful, the investor can walk away and the town is on the hook for a lot of money that has been loaned to the developer. The town shouldn't be taking these kinds of investment risks with taxpayer money."
The Reconnaissance Report also cited an October study for a proposed 60-unit hotel that concluded the site would attract more leisure travelers than business travelers, and that its proximity to shops and restaurants would allow it to draw more tourists than hotels near Interstate 26.
In addition, the 10,000-square-foot conference center, expected to draw corporate groups and local organizations, fills a void in the town, officials said. Due to a lack of facilities, groups now meet in churches.
The study showed that the biggest demand for a convention or civic center would be as a venue for banquets or special events, such as parties or weddings.
The project is expected to create about 60 jobs. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2015 and is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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