Downtown eyesore changing hands

The brick and stucco office building at 111/2 St. Philip St. has stood empty since the early 1980s, but it soon is expected to be bought by the American College of the Building Arts.

One of Charleston's most endangered buildings, one that has sat empty for more than three decades, has new hope.

The Spanish Colonial Revival office building at 111/2 St. Philip St. is being sold to the American College of the Building Arts, which soon plans to transfer it to a private company that will renovate it sooner rather than later.

Built in the early 1920s to house school offices, the Charleston County School District hasn't used it since the early 1980s and it hasn't had the money or inclination to make repairs.

A visit inside a few years ago showed a structure crumbling, from a collapsed staircase to cracked and crumbling walls to boarded-up windows.

The building is hard to notice because of its position along the one-way street, but those who catch a glimpse will find that it looks even sadder these days, now that it sits next to the newly reconstructed Memminger Elementary School.

The boarded-up building is the last unattended piece of the once-blighted campus, which also includes the renovated auditorium and underground power lines at Beaufain and Coming streets.

The district sought an $800,000 federal grant to stabilize it in 2011, but that didn't come through. At the time, the cost to save the only the shell came to more than $1 million.

Back then, the joke was only the vines were holding up the building, but it's surely in worse condition today.

The building hasn't been a major rallying cry for local preservationists. It never made the Preservation Society's annual "Seven to Save" lists, and the Historic Charleston Foundation didn't mention it when it honored the school district recently for its successful rebuilding of several downtown schools.

But Robert Gurley of the society calls the building an interesting example of early 20th-century institutional architecture and is glad to hear of the college's plans.

"It's interesting in that it's not a typical Charleston building," he says. "It has some Mediterranean influence with the tile building and the arched windows. The society has been concerned about its future, and we're happy to know it's been sold to the American College of the Building Arts."

The Charleston County School Board quickly agreed to dispose of the property for only $10, and the college also pledged to provide $200,000 of scholarships over the next five years for students within the district. A closing date is expected soon.

The purchase came about as the city of Charleston considered its deal to transfer the old Trolley Barn to the college for use as its new campus.

A New York real estate finance and investment company, Parallel Asset, is putting up the $1.75 million cost for that Trolley Barn work, and it will receive 111/2 St. Philip, too, for the same price as the college paid for it, says college president Colby Broadwater.

The 111/2 St. Philip building was tacked onto the city-college deal as sort of an afterthought, should the school district agree. It did.

"You could say it's a complex deal," Broadwater says. "This is the way we worked the business end of it. The school board benefits, we believe."

Not only is Parallel Asset helping with the Trolley Barn and 111/2 St. Philip, but it also will receive another landmark: the Old City Jail, which the college has been using as its campus. Parallel is working with Renew Urban Charleston.

Here's wishing the team luck as they tackle some of the city's most challenging and underused historic downtown buildings.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.