Bank branch viewed as eyesore may give way to big development

A Charleston developer wants to replace the First Citizens branch at Meeting and Calhoun streets with this proposed office building.

A small 1970s-era bank branch described as an architectural eyesore could be replaced by a larger new commercial building at a busy intersection in downtown Charleston.

Marion Square Partners LLC has submitted a demolition and redevelopment request for 317 Meeting St. with the city. The conceptual plan shows a four-story, 55-foot-tall mixed-use building with a recessed rooftop structure that goes up another 25 feet.

The property owner is affiliated with Gramling Brothers Real Estate & Development. It bought the First Citizens branch at Meeting and Calhoun streets from the North Carolina-based bank for $3.5 million in March.

The proposed 50,000-square-foot building would have offices over ground-floor retail space. Parking would be on site using a hydraulic car-stacking system.

“We feel like it’s one of the best corners downtown, and we’re just excited to have the opportunity to try to do something with it,” said Mikell Harper, vice president of business development at Charleston-based Gramling Brothers.

If approved, work would begin in 2016, after the bank’s lease expires.

The city’s Board of Architectural Review is scheduled to take up the demolition request and the conceptual plan at a public meeting Wednesday.

Some neighboring residents plan to speak out against the project, said Douglas Fotia, one of 26 homeowners who make up the Meeting Street Condominium Association.

“We’re concerned about the mass and the height of the building,” Fotia said Tuesday.

Previous uses for the corner property included a home and an Esso gas station, he said.

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The low-slung bank branch was built in 1977, according to Charleston County land records. The property is across Calhoun Street from Marion Square and measures about one-third of an acre, with much of that used for parking.

“The building is not of any historical or architectural significance. The site placement is suburban and creates a void at a very important corner of the city,” according to the plans submitted by Marion Square Partners.

To bolster its reuse case, the developer also noted that the property caught the eye of Miami architect and urban planning expert Andres Duany, who was hired to assess how the city handles plans for new buildings in the Historic District. In March, Duany called the existing structure at 317 Meeting “an embarrassment and that it should be removed and replaced immediately,” according to the company’s application.

Gramling Brothers is known locally for its development of the 4,500-acre Cane Bay in Berkeley County.

Contact John McDermott at (843) 937-5572.