Developer: Hospital renovations on track County threatens to break lease

Charleston County is still waiting to move some of its offices into the old Naval Hospital.

The developer renovating the former Charleston Naval Hospital has announced an additional tenant for North Charleston’s tallest building, and says the work is going well, but the anchor tenant — Charleston County — is discussing breaking its lease.

Utah lawyer Douglas Durbano is the developer of Chicora Life Center, as the former hospital at Rivers and McMillan avenues is now known. He has said that delays in completing the work, and claims by more than a dozen contractors and suppliers who say they have not been paid, are routine for a project of this size.

This week, he announced a long-term lease with Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center for 9,807 square feet of office space and examination rooms and called the rental agreement “yet another step toward our vision of creating a comprehensive social services hub for the community under a single roof in the heart of Charleston County.”

Just hours later, at a Charleston County Council meeting, council members Joe Qualey and Colleen Condon proposed a motion to terminate the lease that’s been a key to making the Naval Hospital project viable and able to attract financing. Action on that proposal was postponed until the County Council meeting Thursday.

There was little discussion Tuesday, but Qualey, Condon, Council Chairman Elliott Summey, and Councilman Herb Sass have each expressed concern about the project in recent months, involving the timetable — the county had planned to move in Jan. 1 — the claims of contractors who say they weren’t paid, and the quality of workmanship. Other members of council, particularly Vice Chairman Teddie Pryor and Councilman Henry Darby, have defended the project and the goal of revitalizing the south side of North Charleston.

Qualey said Friday that he made the motion because repeated deadlines have been missed and “based upon the analysis from our legal staff, that they were and are in default, and (because) we have obligations that have hinged on this project for months and months and months that remain unfulfilled.”

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The county agreed in the spring of 2014 to sell its Charleston Center building in downtown Charleston to MUSC, for $17 million, but the county has been unable to vacate the building because its new office space is not ready. Meanwhile, Durbano has told county officials that Naval Hospital renovations for the county have cost more than the agreed-upon maximum of $1.6 million, putting the county on the hook for the difference.

“It’s unfortunate that Councilman Qualey, who has opposed this project from the beginning, without any discussion or consultation with us, chose to introduce his surprise motion to terminate the county’s lease with Chicora Life Center,” Durbano said Friday. “It is our position that terminating the contract will not only open the county up to a legal challenge, but also threaten the provision of a vital social services hub for those most in need in the community.”

Reach David Slade at (843) 937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.