City trying to sell East Bay Street mansion

Josiah Smith Tennent House on East Bay Street. Monday September 13, 2013. Wade Spees/Staff

The city of Charleston is trying to sell a historic East Bay Street mansion it rescued from foreclosure about five years ago.

The four-story Josiah Smith Tennent house at 729 East Bay is on the market as part of a bid-solicitation process that closes Tuesday.

City Council will have the final say on whether to accept any legitimate offer for the 1859-era property that comes in, a spokesperson said.

In 2008, Charleston spent $1.4 million to buy the house when it was facing foreclosure. The site is near the pedestrian ramp of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

Mayor Joe Riley said the goal is to put the house into the private sector and to take the money the city has been dedicating for the building and put it elsewhere into community development projects on the East Side.

City officials have tried to keep the site going in recent years, including by leasing most of the building to nonprofits.

The site has long history, but it fell on hard times in recent decades. In 1993, the building was owned by the city and was little more than an empty shell. At its worst condition, it was used as a garage for city trucks.

Recovery came when the city gave the property to the nonprofit group Elpis, an affiliate of the Rev. Dallas Wilson’s Agape Ministries, and over time gave the organization more than $1 million in grants to renovate the building.

Aided by private donations estimated in the millions, and a $1.73 million mortgage that Elpis obtained in 2003, a well-regarded restoration of the site followed. One especially notable feature is that the small front yard of the building, at East Bay and Drake streets, became the Philip Simmons Children’s Garden, honoring the master blacksmith.

But efforts at rekindling the site fell flat. Many of the community services that Elpis had planned to establish in the building fell by the wayside. In 2008, Elpis defaulted on its mortgage, and the city stepped in that March.

The house is considered significant for its historical and architectural past as representative of the wealth that accrued in that part of the city before the Civil War.

Today the building covers 10,413 square feet and sits on about one-quarter of an acre. The Trident Urban League and a dental clinic are current tenants, according to city documents.

David Slade contributed to this story. Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.