N. Chas. has deal for land, hospital

Brad Nettles/staff North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey points out where a grocery store would go on a conceptual rendering of what the former Pinehaven shopping center and Naval hospital property would look like when developed.

North Charleston plans to sell the former Naval hospital on Rivers Avenue and the old Pinehaven shopping center to a developer who would turn them into elderly housing, a grocery store and parks.

The $9.2 million deal, set to go before City Council Thursday, will reimburse the city for all its investment meant to resurrect a blighted area that has struggled since the neighboring Charleston Naval Base closed more than 15 years ago.

City officials, including Mayor Keith Summey, appeared happy Friday to see success so close at hand.

“We operate a little differently than a lot of people,” Summey said. “We will take a chance. I just believe sometimes it takes government to stimulate. We’ve been very fortunate in the stimulations we’ve created to date.”

City Councilman Bob King, who urged the city to buy the vacant hospital recently, said, “I think it’s one of the bigger deals we’ve had in North Charleston for a long, long time.”

The purchaser is Chicora Gardens LLC, named after the park designed by the famous American landscaping firm founded by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Olmsted designed Central Park in New York City, and his firm also designed a similarly large park outside Charleston in the late 19th century, a park soon sold to the federal government so the U.S. Navy could establish a base there along the Cooper River.

The planned development also will be named Chicora Gardens, but other than its name, little else is set, including the exact mix of owners, said Rick Brownyard, a Mount Pleasant attorney representing the development group.

One document circulating within the city further identified the buyer as Durbano Properties of Layton, Utah.

Brownyard said the buyers’ group is still evolving, but would identify itself in the coming weeks.

“It’s not a case of wanting to be anonymous,” he said. “They have the experience to do it. The money is there to do it as well. We are talking about people who are well-capitalized.”

Summey said he hopes the deal will close within 90 days, and the group then would present a more specific development plan to the city.

At that point, the city will have a firmer sense of the total investment, number of units, amount of park acreage and its commercial and office square footage.

Steve Dudash of Davis & Floyd showed a preliminary site plan including parks, a grocery store, office space and housing. The former 10-story hospital would be rehabilitated into a health clinic and senior living with private apartments but communal dining.

Dudash said as much as 50 percent of the property could be dedicated as parks, and designers would look to Central Park, Boston Commons and Charleston’s Hampton Park for inspiration.

The redevelopment also will have an emphasis on public transit and walkability, including a pedestrian overpass spanning Rivers Avenue.

Summey said that from the city’s standpoint, the most important thing is the developer promises to bring a grocery store to a part of the city that once had seven but now has none.

“After a grocery store, everything is pudding for us,” he said.

The city has spent about $4.2 million buying and clearing the Pinehaven site. In October the city placed a $2 million bid for the hospital property during an online auction by the General Services Administration.

The city will use most of the $9.2 million purchase price to offset its investment to date. Summey said the city also will invest $2 million to redevelop the larger area, and it plans to use the final $1 million to cover any losses by the grocery store during its first three years.

“We don’t think they’re going to need it, but that’s an enticement that helps bring (a grocery store) on board,” he said.

City Council members got a preview of the proposal behind closed doors Thursday but took no vote, Summey said. “They were wholeheartedly in support of it,” he added.

A vote is expected Thursday. Asked if the city is getting fair market value, Summey said that’s hard to say because the hospital property has not been sold, or appraised for tax purposes, in decades.

The city had hoped the focal point for the southern part of the city would be the Noisette project’s ambitious redevelopment of a vast parking area near the MacMillan Avenue entrance to the former base.

When the city and state settled their long-standing dispute over rail access on the former Navy base, that redevelopment site now is set to become the northern end of a large new rail yard.

Summey said the Chicora Gardens project now will serve as the anchor to the city’s south ern end.

“We just moved the focal point,” he said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.