Plans for a five-star hotel and condominium project on a parking lot by the historic City Market in downtown Charleston have resurfaced, with some strong support in hand.
There have been a few changes since the concept was presented and then shelved last summer, and this time the neighborhood associations and the city's planning department are backing it. That's a key factor as the city's Planning Commission considers the rezoning requests to clear the way for the project on Wednesday.
The developers said this would be a major project for the Market, which has been rapidly moving upscale the last couple years, and would fit in with the city's plans to upgrade the sidewalks, landscaping and drainage to make the area more attractive.
Somera Capital Management of Atlanta bought the parking lot near the market sheds and horse stables from First Baptist Church, paying an eye-popping $15 million for the one-acre parcel five years ago. The owner is listed as SCM Charleston Market Investors LLC, a Somera subsidiary.
The parking lot covers two parcels, divided by a right of way that's an extension of Hayne Street. Each lot is zoned for 50 hotel rooms.
Last summer, Geyer Morris of Atlanta met with city officials and residents to get feedback on plans for a seven-story building with 135 hotel rooms and a dozen condominiums. Neighbors said it was too much, and no official action was taken.
Now, a year later, the developers are back with a slightly scaled-down version. The building would be four and a half stories at most — three and a half stories along North Market and taller in the middle — and contain no more than 115 hotel rooms and condominiums.
The details are spelled out in a written agreement that the developers and the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association both signed. The French Quarter Neighborhood Association didn't sign the agreement but was also part of the negotiations, according to John Marsland, president of the Ansonborough association.
The Planning Commission would have to agree to let the city abandon the right of way, rezone the resultant single lot to allow up to 150 rooms and grant the additional height up to four stories. The Board of Architectural Review could approve an additional half story based on architectural merit.
Tyler Morris, a managing partner at Geyer Morris, and Jake Farver, managing director of Somera Capital, confirmed the plan last week.
"We have been committed to working with the neighborhood and other community leaders to come up with a plan that everybody is comfortable with," Morris said. "We're pleased with the outcome. ... We're excited to be a part of the effort to continue to enhance the market district."
Principals with the architectural firm and the development company said last summer that their vision was to create a hotel in Charleston that was on par with a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton. Morris said that's still the vision.
The condominium units would be in several buildings along Pinckney Street, the north end of the site, and would be patterned after Charleston single houses.
Shops would front North Market on the south and a pedestrian arcade and courtyard in the middle of the site.
Parking for the hotel and shops would be underneath the hotel. The developers are still studying how much additional public parking might be provided, Morris said.
The parking lot has about 84 spaces. The city has been studying how to replace spaces that are lost, according to chief planner Jacob Lindsey.
As before, traffic coming out of the hotel would not be allowed to turn north onto Anson Street. How much traffic a hotel adds to a neighborhood is always a concern for the board of zoning appeals, which would also have to approve the hotel. Traffic into the neighborhood is expected actually to be less after the hotel replaces the parking lot.
Mayor John Tecklenburg has been pushing for limits on more hotels on the peninsula, but these two parcels have been zoned for hotels for years. The city staff is backing this plan, Lindsey said.
"It really does fit into our long-term plans for the area," he said.
The developers have not filed plans or renderings with the city, although Lindsey said he has looked over concepts, and they have the same grand feel as the original design.
"It's a very classical design that will fit in well with the historic district," he said.
Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York remains the designer. The firm also designed Courier Square, a mixed-use project at Meeting and Columbus streets on land owned by the parent company of The Post and Courier, as well as the Four Seasons hotel and luxury condos at 30 Park Place in New York City.