Plans to activate Charleston's former Morris Sokol Furniture storefront have been in the works for several years, and now a revamped master plan calling for a full-service hotel on the site is up for review from the city.
Previous proposals for the prominent upper King Street property had called for a 50-room hotel, condominiums and street-level retail, Mike Shuler, an owner in the partnership that bought the building in 2016, told The Post and Courier in January.
Since then, the plans have evolved and now incorporate an adjacent building at 502 King St. that had been approved for a 50-room hotel use.
"We’re taking what we had before and improving on those improvements," Shuler said.
The new plan calls for a 200-room full-service hotel. Under the city's updated accommodations regulations, that designation requires the property to have an on-site restaurant and at least 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
Plans still call for street-level retail, and the Starbucks cafe at 502 King Street will stay, said Lauren Richter, the head of real estate at Global RE Group, a real estate firm that's working with Shuler on the project.
The type of retail is still in flux, but Richter said the developers are looking at "experiential" businesses and retail that could be useful to the community, such as a store with a "grocery component."
Shuler's group also holds a lot that touches Woolfe and Reid streets. Current plans call for that property, and another that's behind the Orvis retail store on King Street, to be used for parking for the full-service hotel and retail tenants.
But eventually, Richter said, the backers are interested in developing the Woolfe-Reid parcel with a residential use.
Shuler said the group has been working "hand-in-hand" with the city to develop its plan, and the new hotel ordinance influenced what's now proposed.
"When you look at the intent of the ordinance, we see it as: how do you maximize positive impact and minimize negative impact?" Shuler said.
By combining two separate 50-room hotel plans into a larger property with amenity space and retail, Shuler said they could "optimize" what was possible for the block.
At meetings this year of Charleston's hotel task force, which included representatives from preservation groups, neighborhood associations and the tourism industry, members agreed that the city could use a few more full-service properties with the capacity to accommodate large groups and conferences.
That's how a cap was set allowing four additional full-service properties — which are all hotels with more than 50 rooms and a large amount of meeting space — in the "full service box" that's bound by King, Meeting, Line and Ann streets.
The Morris Sokol development, as well as a nearby parcel on Mary Street, will be the first to be reviewed for full-service hotel uses since the new ordinance passed.
It has not been determined yet whether the hotel will be independently branded or belong to a existing flag, but it will be a luxury property, Richter said.
She said the developers want to differentiate it from existing lodgings by creating a place where "locals and tourists commingle." The property would include places for people to come in and work on their laptops or hold business meetings, she said.
The architecture firm Sottile & Sottile of Savannah is doing the design work for the development. People can expect to see the existing buildings, including the Morris Sokol storefront, stay but be brought back "to the grandeur of when they were built," Richter said.
More of the development will be built up behind the existing structures that front King Street. The designs will "celebrate the brick and ironwork of the city," Richter said.
When the store, which its namesake salesman opened on King Street in 1929, announced it would close in 2015, then-Mayor Joe Riley said he hoped the storefront wouldn't be idle for long, describing it as a "very desirable piece of land."
The partnership managed by Shuler purchased the property not long after, in early 2016, for $22.5 million.
The Morris Sokol building is one of a few former family-owned retail stores on King Street that are being converted into mixed-use projects with hotel rooms. But, under the new plans, it will differ in scale.
Across the street at the former Dixie Furniture building, a firm is planning a 50-unit "apartment hotel" concept that caters to extended-stay guests.
And farther down King Street at the former Bob Ellis shoe store, a boutique 22-room hotel with a cafe and retail on the first floor has been planned.
The request for 200 hotel rooms will have to be OK'd by a city zoning board, which is scheduled to review the plan this week. Charleston planning director Jacob Lindsey said it's possible the item will get deferred, since a minor revision to the language about the limit on new full-service hotels is scheduled to come before City Council on Tuesday.
The change would clarify, not change, that cap, Lindsey said, and once it's made, the Morris Sokol request is expected to meet the requirements of the new hotel ordinance.