Built as a cotton mill in the 1880s before morphing into a cigarmaking plant 30 years later, the building now widely known on the Charleston peninsula as the Cigar Factory is undergoing a transformation.
The cavernous structure is quickly filling up with an eclectic mix of tenants scattered on all five floors of the historic East Bay Street building.
In between the handful of leaseholders already settled in are skeletal wall frames being outfitted for at least 16 other tenants already signed up, said Bob Nuttall with Lee & Associates, the commercial real estate firm that operates a small property management office on the fourth floor.
“About 70 percent of the building is leased,” Nuttall said.
The Cigar Factory site allows parking for about 200 cars, but the owners have leased nearby space in the footprint of the old Cooper River bridges from the city for about 300 more parking spaces to accommodate tenants as the building fills up, he said.
“It’s all coming together,” he said.
Garden & Gun magazine has taken the largest amount of space so far in the 244,000-square-foot landmark. The periodical’s second-floor perch on the north wing encompasses more than 26,000 square feet, highlighted by a bit of Kentucky horse-racing lore. Much of the reclaimed wood in that part of the building came from old stables at Churchill Downs. The 8-year-old Charleston-based magazine moved in Monday.
“The minute I heard about the Cigar Factory, I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great place for Garden & Gun?’ ” said magazine founder Rebecca Wesson Darwin.
The periodical that features the South’s finer aspects outgrew its space strung out across three floors of a former pharmacy and residential building at King and Vanderhorst streets.
“It will be nice to be on one floor,” Darwin said. “The space is designed for people to work together as a group so they won’t always be sitting alone.”
Architect David Thompson added, “The hardest part was wanting open lines of communication but still having productive work spaces.”
High ceilings, exposed ductwork and dappled bricks add character to the magazine’s working environment for its 50 local employees.
“It’s an incredible space, and we are so proud of it,” Darwin said.
On the third floor, PURE Insurance occupies more than 10,400 square feet and will eventually bring five dozen workers in sales, marketing, underwriting, risk management and member services. The New York-based insurance firm’s local office serves high-income policyholders in six Southeastern states as well as a call center.
“Charleston has been a critical part of PURE’s early success, and the move is representative of our exceptional growth,” said Bobby Collins, senior vice president with the PURE Group of Insurance Companies and former chairman of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
The space is built for 60 employees, but because of PURE’s growth, Collins said, “we are thinking we might have underdone that a little bit.” The local office, which moved from Harrell Square in West Ashley three weeks ago, now has 28 workers.
He said the extra space in the Cigar Factory site “is a little more suitable to bring in clients and agents.” PURE serves nearly 3,000 people in South Carolina alone.
On the second floor, The Cedar Room, an event space for the local Indigo Road restaurant group, offers 8,000 square feet for wedding receptions and cocktail parties. The party space with original beams and wooden columns overlooks a private courtyard for outdoor gatherings.
“We love the location,” said Christa Polinsky, general manager of the site for Indigo Road. “I think it’s going to be the new center point for East Bay Street. ... The architecture is beautiful. It’s a blank canvas for anybody wanting to use that space.”
It can accommodate up to 550 people and is band-ready as well. “It’s a great universal space,” she said.
Below The Cedar Room on the first floor, Mercantile and Mash, a restaurant and retail concept by Indigo Road, will be near the Columbus Street side of the building when it opens in a couple of weeks.
EnviroMix, an environmental technology company for water and wastewater, moved in last week to nearly 3,300 square feet on the fifth floor.
Together, the current tenants occupy about 20 percent of the brick-walled building.
The newfound success of luring tenants to the structure comes after a long lull induced by the last recession. The plant stopped making cigars 42 years ago. It served as a business and technology center for a time and home to Johnson & Wales University before the culinary school moved out in 2006.
A firm led by Atlanta developer Boyd Simpson bought the structure in 2007 for $20 million, envisioning 66 residential condominiums over retail and office space. That was shortly before financial markets collapsed, and Simpson’s lender later failed during the credit crisis.
The project shut down in 2009, but Simpson held onto the building after settling a legal dispute with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. He sold it in 2014 for $24.18 million to a consortium of investors called Cigar Factory Development LLC.
The ownership group includes Charleston-based Roi-Tan Investments, which is made up of about 10 mostly local investors, including William Cogswell of WECCO Development, Jay Weaver of Weaver Capital Partners and Sticky Fingers restaurant chain co-founder Chad Walldorf, who is chairman of the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors.
Its joint venture partner is Federal Capital Partners, a large, privately held real estate investment firm. The Chevy Chase, Md.-based company serves as a financier for the Cigar Factory’s $55 million overhaul.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524.