No-bid deal with MUSC advances Real estate plan to create health hub in N. Charleston

Brad Nettles/Staff Charleston County is looking to sell the Charleston Center on Calhoun Street to MUSC for $17 million.

Charleston County will move key health services into the old Naval Hospital on Rivers Avenue to make way for a $17 million sale of real estate to the Medical University of South Carolina.

MUSC is purchasing two downtown properties from the county where Banov Health Department and Charleston Center are currently located off of Courtenay Drive, officials said.

County Council Finance Committee on Thursday approved the lease/purchase agreement with MUSC. Councilman Joe Qualey said he was voting against the deal because the property should be put out for bids first.

"I think we owe it to the taxpayers," Qualey said.

The county is potentially losing out on $250,000 in annual tax revenue because of the MUSC deal, he said.

Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said that the county had a "gentleman's agreement" with the Medical University offering it right of first refusal on the purchase of the properties.

"I think it's the right thing to do," Pryor said.

By October, and possibly earlier, affected county departments will relocate to the Naval Hospital. They include the Coroner's Office and Vital Records/Statistics, which are now at the county Perimeter Center on Bridge View Drive.

County Administrator Kurt Taylor said the deal is the culmination of two years of planning and negotiation.

MUSC President Raymond Greenberg approached the county about acquiring the buildings, Taylor said.

To make the move possible, the county will lease 92,521 square feet at the hospital from Chicora Gardens/Chicora LLC, a partnership that purchased the property from the City of North Charleston. The landlord will pay for a $1.6 million renovation of the space. The county will cover its moving costs and installation of voice and data networks, Taylor said.

The county changes are envisioned as part of an effort to create a new hub for medical and social services in the North Area. Long-term benefits of the plan include consolidation of services and reduced operational costs, officials said.

Others considering making the move to the hospital include the Franklin C. Fetter Health Clinic and unnamed agencies of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, according to a county presentation at Tuesday's meeting.

The Finance Committee vote authorizes Pryor to execute a 25-year lease with Chicora Gardens/Chicora LLC.

"We have taken great pains to make sure that the county is fully protected in the terms of the lease. They have to provide for anything that goes wrong and take care of our needs," Taylor said.

As part of the plan, the building that houses the county health department clinic on Whipper Barony Lane in North Charleston will be sold. That clinic will also move to the Naval Hospital.

Other proposed tenants at the hospital include a grocery store, a transitional housing program for veterans, a licensed child care center, a Department of Veterans Affairs office and a special medical needs shelter, officials said.

For the county, long-term benefits of the changes include reduced operational costs and a centralized, easily-accessible location for services, officials said.

Based on the extensive upgrades needed, the county would not be the first tenant at the old Naval Hospital, said county spokesman Sean Smetana. A spokesman for the Medical University could not be reached for comment.

The County Council will consider the Medical University deal at its next meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on May 20 at the Lonnie Hamilton Public Services Building on Bridge View Drive.

The Finance Committee is comprised of all Council members.