BY JOHN P. McDERMOTT and DAVID SLADE
North Charleston is attempting to buy a vacant hospital in an area the city is trying to redevelop, but offering nearly $1.95 million to the federal government was apparently not enough.
The city was top bidder in a U.S. General Services Administration auction — a surprise outcome to most people except Mayor Keith Summey — but Summey said Thursday night that the GSA’s unpublished minimum sale price, known as a reserve, had not been met.
The city now plans to boost its offer for the former Charleston Naval Hospital to as much as $2 million.
Summey said the city has no plans for the 10-story building and 24-acre property, but wants control over what happens on the site, across Rivers Avenue from city-owned property that once housed a shopping center.
The city bought Shipwatch Square for $2.5 million, cleared the land, and has been trying to lure a major supermarket to that location.
“If we have a developer who comes in and shows us a plan (for the former hospital), we would sell it,” Summey said. “We need activity in that area.”
But the city doesn’t own the property yet, and doesn’t know if offering slightly more money will be enough.
Saudia Muwwakkil, regional public affairs officer for the GSA, said in a statement Thursday that it normally takes up to six weeks to determine if a bid is acceptable.
The GSA began seeking buyers for the property through an online auction that began Sept. 13 and closed Wednesday.
The sale drew five unidentified participants who put down $50,000 deposits to participate.
The GSA’s auction website shows the city’s $1,948,290 offer was made Tuesday, topping the next-highest bidder by the required minimum of $20,000.
North Charleston spokesman Ryan Johnson had said previously that the city submitted an offer early in the process, but said last Friday “we’re not going to be purchasing it.”
On Thursday, Johnson said he had been mistaken, and Summey said the bidding could have been influenced if the city’s intentions were known.
If City Council members had concerns about the unexpected purchase attempt, they didn’t express them publicly. Instead, they discussed the deal in private with the mayor, then voted 7-1 to give him the authority to offer the GSA up to $2 million.
Ed Astle was the “no” vote. Todd Olds and Dorothy Williams were absent.
“I have no problem with buying it, but I see it turning into a money pit,” Astle said later.
Summey said the federal government has been paying $1.2 million yearly for security guards, heating and cooling for the hospital, which was shut down two years ago.
“We could be taking on this burden of $1.2 million for two or three years,” Astle said.
If the government accepts a revised offer from North Charleston, the city would get title to the 368,000-square-foot hospital building, a three-story former enlisted quarters, tennis and basketball courts, and parking for about 900 vehicles.
The 175-bed hospital at Rivers and McMillan avenues opened in 1973 to support the Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard, and employed more than 1,200 health care workers before the Navy decided in the early 1990s to close the base.
Summey said it has been costing the government about $100,000 monthly to keep the building secure, and heated and cooled enough to prevent damage. North Charleston would presumably assume those costs if it is successful in buying the site.