Hotel planned for Marion Square gains new momentum; preservationists still disapprove

Library Associates' proposed hotel design is going back through the city review process. It would be built on Marion Square, adjacent to an Embassy Suites (right) and across from St. Matthew's Lutheran Church.

A developer is brushing the dust off plans for a full-service hotel near Marion Square that's been proposed for nearly a decade.

Library Associates LLC, registered to local hotel investor Michael Bennett, last week began the city's approval and permitting process for a 185-room luxury lodging at the former Charleston County library site that was razed about nine months ago.

The hotel was first proposed in 2004, but a legal dispute has long stood in its way.

Charleston preservationists sued the city after it gave the project the green light in 2007, saying the eight story, 105-foot-tall structure would exceed the height limits for that area.

The case made it all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the city in late 2012.

Although few details about the plans have changed since the dispute began, the developers are required to resubmit the design for city approval.

The process can take up to a year before construction can begin, but Bennett said he doesn't plan to waste any time getting started on the project.

"It's been a long time coming, and hopefully it will get started in the next 90 days or so," he said Friday. "In some ways, though I would have loved to build it seven or eight years ago ... the city is in a different place today, and I think it will give us the opportunity to build a better hotel."

He said Charleston's booming tourism industry has created a higher demand for luxury lodging, which means the new hotel may be able to offer higher quality rooms for higher prices.

"There's a bigger opportunity as to what the ADR (average daily room rates) can support. Demand is higher, the rate is higher, which enables us to build the hotel at a higher level than anyone ever expected," he said.

Preservationists are less enthusiastic about the development.

"We believe that the continued construction of buildings of this height, scale and mass represents an alarming trend that is at the center of the concern about the livability of the historic district," Robert Gurley of the Historic Preservation Society said.

Historic Charleston Foundation declined to comment.

Bennett said the hotel will improve the environment on King Street.

"We think we have the opportunity to create one of the finest private buildings in our city in the past 100 years, and the city has been a steward to make that idea happen," he said.

The project will cost from $85 million to $95 million, and it will likely take 22 months to complete once the ground is broken, Bennett said.

A hotel brand has not yet been chosen, but "they're all calling," he added.

The full-service hotel includes an underground parking deck, a ballroom on the first floor, and a pool, bar and private event space on the rooftop terrace, according to the plans.

On the ground level, there are four retail spaces facing King Street that Bennett said will most likely serve as storefronts for Bennett Hospitality-owned businesses, such as a french bakery and a two-story spa.

Bennett, who also oversees Holy City Hospitality restaurants such as 39 Rue de Jean and Coast, said there will be three or four food and beverage spaces peppered throughout the hotel.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail