An 18-room boutique hotel will breathe new life into the vacant Bob Ellis Shoes store at King and George streets in the heart of the peninsula's historic shopping district.
Charleston’s Board of Zoning Appeals gave the project unanimous approval Tuesday.
The Kalinksy family owns the three-story building at 332 King St. and closed the high-end shoe business in December after 66 years. An undisclosed investor wants to buy the property if the city allows a hotel over two ground-floor retail shops. A previous plan called for 24 guest rooms.
"I am extremely proud of what these guys are trying to do," Barry Kalinksy, who worked at the store for more than 30 years, told the board.
Now that the plans have been approved, the sale should be completed by early September, according to Chris Kendrick with Keller Williams Commercial, who represents the unidentified buyer.
Architect Steve Ramos with LS3P Associates Ltd. said the restoration includes 56 windows, many that have been darkened as the upper floors were used for storage. Two buildings were on the property until they were combined around 1935, he said.
The lobby and staffed desk would be in the rear of the ground floor, with two stores facing King Street. Hotel rooms would be on the upper two floors and a penthouse suite on the roof.
Attorney Brian Hellman said he received 62 letters of support, more than for any other project he’s represented.
Photographer Jack Alterman’s family owns 36 George St., behind the Bob Ellis building, and would lease parking spaces for the hotel. The city requires 12 spaces for 18 rooms, plus six spaces for 36 George St. Plans also include improvements to the driveway.
"This is like a dream … to have an investor come along and say we’re going to improve this property," Alterman told the board.
Zoning administrator Lee Batchelder said he was concerned that the driveway is too narrow, at 19 feet 4 inches, although the city has no particular standard, and the traffic would add to the congestion of a block that’s already crowded. The building is across King Street from the College of Charleston's Sottile Theater.
Batchelder cited a letter of opposition from the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association.
Ramos countered that the hotel would be in the core of the commercial district and would have no impact on residential neighborhoods. The alley would have three spaces off to one side for loading and unloading, and valets would handle parking with a lift. He showed a photo of two pickup trucks passing each other in the driveway and pointed out that the driveways for the nearby King Charles Inn and the Barksdale House Inn are even more narrow.
The driveway off George Street will be resurfaced, pavers will be added to slow traffic, and a stripe down the middle will help keep cars in their lanes, he said.
“We spent a lot of time analyzing the driveway," Ramos said. "We are confident what we are doing with the driveway is going to work."
Roberty Gurley, director of preservation for the Preservation Society of Charleston, spoke against the project.
"We think this is a real traffic hazard," he said. "I think it’s going to be extremely dangerous."
Two residents stood to say they agreed with him.
The board disagreed. Leonard Krawcheck and Michael Robinson recused themselves. The five remaining members all voted to grant a special exception for an accommodations use.