Springing back to life

Manny Gonzales, owner of Tiger Lily Florist on Spring Street, loads flowers into his van for a delivery to Kiawah Island. The shop will give away free bouquets on Oct. 11. File/Staff

For 10 years, Manny and Clara Gonzales have stemmed roses, assembled flower arrangements and put bouquets in the hands of many a bride at their Tiger Lily floral business on Spring Street.

Earlier this year, they thought about leasing or selling the 6,600-square-foot business, but now they’ve reconsidered.

The building isn’t for lease anymore, and they’ve upped the asking price to $3.6 million from $2.95 million just a few months ago. They also aren’t in a hurry to relocate anytime soon.

Why? Because they realized their longtime location in a blossoming neighborhood is ideal for their business, but more importantly because of what’s happening up and down the street and on each end of it.

To the east, Upper King Street is booming. The Midtown project soon will be completed with two new Hyatt-branded hotels. A 10-story apartment building is slated for Woolfe Street nearby. New ground-level shops have filled in the Elan Midtown upscale apartment building at Meeting and Spring streets. Other merchants will open on King Street when Midtown is completed by this fall.

On the opposite end of Spring, the new WestEdge mixed-use development — formerly the Horizon project — soon will add apartments, offices and shops in high-rise buildings near Lockwood Drive. Where Spring meets the Crosstown, a five-story, multifamily complex with ground-floor retail space is planned.

In between, new shops and businesses are springing up.

The Veggie Bin opened at 96 Spring St. last fall. Counter Culture Coffee on Saturday opened a training shop less than a block away. A developer is eyeing an old church for an undisclosed use down the street. A record store, cafe and hair salon are also new to the thoroughfare.

All of this is occurring while the city puts in new curbs up and down the street. New lantern-style street lights and plants will follow along with new paving next year, when the road is set to open to two-way traffic.

“It’s the kind of live-work neighborhood that urban planners spend years working on,” Manny Gonzales of Tiger Lily said. “It’s growing organically here. It’s exciting seeing the buildings on the street getting redeveloped one by one.”

The new-found popularity of King Street is spilling over onto Spring Street, said Patrick Price of The PrimeSouth Group, a commercial real estate developer in downtown Charleston.

“It’s a great niche for businesses that are small and startup,” Price said.

That’s because rents are some $20 lower per square foot than on King Street and there is more availability for small businesses on tight budgets, he said. Average annual rent rates on Spring are in the mid to upper $20 per square foot. On King, they are $45 per square foot and rising.

“In 12 to 18 months, it will probably be $50-plus,” Price said of Upper King.

“With all of the new development, when you put all of those people with the apartments and hotels in that density, they are going to spill off and start looking for shopping and food on other streets,” he said. “There will be small little shops like the coffee shop that is opening, and you will start to see more pedestrian traffic.”

Spring Street wasn’t the first choice for the Veggie Bin, but its owners have been thrilled with the backup site.

“We had leased a space on Calhoun Street and were then informed in October that we couldn’t occupy it until January,” said co-owner Fraser Young. “Spring Street was our fallback site. In hindsight, we found that 50 percent of our customers live there. We are very satisfied with that location.”

He believes Spring is becoming popular not just because it is being redeveloped, but also because there is a limited number of places for retail downtown along with a high demand to live and work in the same part of the city.

“That has concentrated the desire of people to live in that neighborhood,” Young said.

Counter Culture Coffee, which supplies coffee to several restaurants in the Charleston area, called Spring Street an ideal place for its training center. It’s also a bridge between Durham, N.C., where it is based, and Atlanta, where it’s had a training center for a while.

“It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood,” said Nathan Brown, coffee company marketing manager. “It’s on the cusp with a lot of foot traffic, and it fits in with the type of place we are looking to get into.”

The company doesn’t have retail locations. It develops an educational curriculum for the people who are making coffee where it is served. It does offer Tastings at 10 every Friday for the public to enjoy.

The neighborhood association likes what’s happening as well, but it’s also leery of the unknown.

“We are so excited about Spring Street changing,” said Cator Sparks, president of the Cannonborough- Elliottborough Neighborhood Association. “But we see a lot of developers come in and look at this as a moneymaker. It makes us nervous. We don’t want to lose the character of the neighborhood. ... We want the city to grow in a smart and beautiful way.”

Sparks would like to see more green space.

“They (developers) have to understand they are building in Charleston,” Sparks said. “We are the best city in America right now, and we deserve the best. A lot of designs we are getting are not the best.”

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Beside Sparks’ house, a Charleston developer wants to tear down a church and rebuild on the site.

Colin K. Colbert, the principal with CKC Properties LLC of Charleston, said the Board of Architectural Review voted earlier this month to allow demolition of Plymouth United Church of Christ at 124 Spring that his firm is trying to acquire.

Colbert still is playing around with ideas for the best use of the property, but he is leaning toward a mixed-use residential and retail structure.

“We don’t have anything definitive yet,” he said late last week.

Sparks said he is wary of what will go up on the church property, “but I am trying to keep an open mind.”

Mayor Joe Riley called the changes to Spring Street part of the redevelopment transforming the entire downtown area.

“The energy the peninsula is experiencing keeps spreading,” Riley said. “It’s just terrific.”

He cited redevelopment of the corridor and more affordable properties and leases as factors in Spring Street’s resurgence, but also credited the bookends of new development from Midtown to WestEdge. He expects more interest in Spring Street to follow.

“With the WestEdge development, there will be some retail there,” the mayor said. “It knits together the western end with the eastern end.”

Tim Keane, the former director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability with the city who recently left for a similar job in Atlanta, said the evolution of Spring Street is not because of the two-way traffic plan that starts next year.

“It has much more to do with the growth of jobs downtown and people wanting to live downtown,” he said. “The mix of owner-occupied to rental is better. The King Street increase in rents also has affected the move to Spring and Cannon streets. That’s a factor.”

The owners of the Tiger Lily florist don’t mind the changes one bit.

“I had high expectations when we moved here 10 years ago,” Manny Gonzales said. “What’s happening on King Street is blowing my mind. Having that much energy around us is great. It’s going to be a very special place to live and work.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.