Baker Hospital site to become a new county park

The site of the old Baker Hospital has been acquired by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

The former Baker Hospital property — 57 acres along the Ashley River in North Charleston just below Cosgrove Avenue — is now Charleston County’s newest park site, a gift from two families that didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

And the county soon will start figuring out how best to use it. Possible options include sports fields, jogging trails and picnic facilities.

The county’s Park and Recreation Commission received the property — about the size of Charleston’s Hampton Park — via real estate teams both here and in Atlanta, with financial help from Charleston residents Michael and Jenny Messner and his business partner, Paul Shiverick and his wife, Betsy, said PRC director Tom O’Rourke.

As it does after acquiring new parkland, the commission soon will begin a master plan for its future development.

“What everybody wants to know is ‘What are you going to do?’ ” O’Rourke said. “I don’t have that answer right now.”

Baker Hospital closed several years ago, and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce had its headquarters there until 2010.

The hospital building itself was later torn down, and previous pushes to develop the site as a mix of offices, hotels, residences, stores and industrial space never panned out.

Still, the site is largely cleared and flat, with only a few trees interrupting the view of the river.

“Right now it’s pretty much a big open barren spot,” O’Rourke said. “It’s not pretty, and I’m not going to apologize for saying that, but it can be when it’s all done with proper planting, trees and shade structures.”

The property was owned by Ashley II of Charleston, LLC. Yukon Property Consultants of Atlanta helped make the deal possible without tax dollars, as it did with the commission’s 2012 acquisition of its Stono River County Park site, the commission said.

Magnolia-ARC Lender, LLC, which held the note on the property, also helped by tapping its network of business contacts. The company’s members include MWV, Branch Properties, LLC, and Pope & Land Enterprises Inc.

Kenneth Seeger, president of MWV Community Development and Land Management, said the members looked at several options for the property, including developing a business park, but “ultimately what the community said it wanted was a riverfront park.”

The property recently appraised for $18 million, but the amount donated for its purchase was about $8 million, O’Rourke said, adding that the deal “was an agreement by a whole group. We stayed out of that room.”

It’s unclear how soon the public might gain access to the Baker site, but that could take more than a year.

The county agency often does its own historical, archaeological and other studies before opening up its property, and all that planning — and figuring out how to provide parking, restrooms and other amenities — can take time.

For instance, the Park and Recreation Commission acquired McLeod Plantation on James Island in early 2011. It plans to open its gates to the public on April 25.

O’Rourke said the agency has no money to develop the Baker site, but it might not need much if it were to partner with other institutions, such as the College of Charleston or the Charleston County School District.

“I get criticized for gobbling up all the land I can get,” O’Rourke said, “but if I don’t do that, it’s just going to be developed.”

CC&T Real Estate Services President Robert Clement brokered the transaction, which essentially creates North Charleston’s second riverfront park. The first opened a decade ago on the former Navy base’s golf course along the Cooper River.

Messner, whose wife Jenny sits on the Board of Charleston Parks Conservancy, said Charleston’s growth will fuel the need for more parks.

“Great cities have great parks,” he said. “This property can be a major step toward a park-rich peninsula.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.