For years, developers have claimed run-down tracts of land in the Upper Meeting Street corridor, promising to transform the sites into luxury hotels and high-end residences.
To date, few of those projects have made it off the drawing board. But one is aiming be the exception by being one of the first out of the ground.
The Green on Meeting, a proposed five-story project of shops, offices and residential condominiums, is making its way through the city planning process. The developer, a group of Savannah investors organized under the name Meeting Street Developers LLC, plans to break ground on the year-long project by the end of 2008.
The project is moving forward ahead of neighboring developments and despite the shaky local real estate market because its backers are forsaking the luxury condo market for something geared at less-affluent buyers, said Patrick Shay, a partner in Meeting Street Developers and a senior partner in the architectural firm SPARC Design Studio.
"We think that there is already a lot of desire for middle-class folks to live in the downtown area," Shay said this week "It means they have to make some sacrifices ... but especially for young people, we think we have a market approach that's going to be able to develop a lot of enthusiasm."
The project is planned for the corner of Reid and Meeting streets, now a vacant lot next to a gas station. Plans call for 24 condo units to be built over ground-level parking and retail space.
The second floor will also have offices, giving the project a total of about 5,000 square feet of commercial space.
The group hasn't lined up any commercial tenants yet, but Shay said he hopes to secure a coffee shop for the ground-level store.
Fifteen of the residential units are designated as "work force housing," and residents will have to fall within designated income levels to qualify as buyers under city zoning rules. Prices for those units will likely start around $210,000, far less than the median condo sale price of $720,000 for the area below the Crosstown this year.
Developing an affordable housing project in downtown Charleston isn't easy, said Shay, whose group paid $1.35 million for its site in spring 2007.
"It's really hard to do with land prices as high as they are and with the high standards that the (city planning officials) expect for the project," he said.
The income from the blend of residential and commercial uses allows it to be financially viable, Shay said.
He also said the building will be constructed using environmentally friendly techniques. Builders likely will use renewable materials such as bamboo flooring, and they could install energy-generating panels and a rain garden on the roof.
"I'm kind of against the term 'green' because it's beginning to mean nothing, but it's a very energy and resource-conserving project," Shay said. "We think that will attract the right kind of people to our project."