Two years ago, an abandoned, historic home at 133 Cannon St. seemed like it had no other future than to sit there and rot.
Boarded up, eaten by termites and only standing with the support of safety beams, the house was little more than an eyesore in the flourishing Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood.
At least, that's the way the former owner saw it. He could think of no other option than to tear it down and start over.
But the neighborhood association disagreed, and ultimately, Charleston's Board of Architectural Review shot down his demolition request.
The owner said it would simply cost too much to restore it, and he doubted it would resell in its poor condition.
But a local realtor, Tift Mitchell, saw its potential and purchased the property in April for more than $560,000 with a vision to invest in its redevelopment.
It’s going to be very involved and difficult, Mitchell said, but he feels like it’s worth it.
"Although it’s very daunting and it keeps me up at night, I believe in the area," he said.
Mitchell, owner and operator of Tift Properties, has redeveloped many other historic properties in the neighborhood, and he happens to live there, too.
While he enjoys giving new purposes to old properties, the project at 133 Cannon involves more than just the historic restoration of the existing building. In fact, it wouldn't be financially possible to save it if he couldn't utilize the rest of the land around it for new buildings.
The concept, narrowly approved by the BAR in September, involves the construction of a new mixed-use commercial building on the existing house's former driveway, as well as two new homes behind it.
It was possible to fit it all in because Mitchell already owned the property next door at 131 Cannon, which had enough land to spare to accommodate the project's overall density.
In other words, he was uniquely positioned to re-envision the whole future for a major chunk of land near the corner of President Street.
The new building on the front of the lot will include retail and office space, and the historic home will be renovated as a residence. The two new houses could be used as rental properties.
The neighborhood association, which had advocated for the abandoned home's renovation rather than demolition two years ago, voted to throw their support behind Mitchell's concept.
"We’re excited about this development at that end of Cannon Street," said association president Marion Hawkins. "I think it fits in with trying to restore the health of these old properties, and our vision is to strike a balance between residential and commercial."
Andrew Gould, a property designer with New World Byzantine and a resident of the neighborhood, designed the layout of the site, the historic renovation as well as the new buildings.
He said the project was an especially compelling opportunity because it's rare to find a vacant street-facing lot in a historic area that's large enough for a new commercial building.
The renovation, however, will be tricky. Gould said the old house is in such poor condition, it's possible that more than half of the structure will have to be replaced.
The good news is they were able to locate old photographs of the house, so they can replicate the facade it once had about a century ago, with a two-story front porch.
"It’s not too much guesswork in terms of what it’s supposed to look like," Gould said.
If all goes as planned, the whole project could be complete within two years, Mitchell said.