Tucked between several neighborhoods, a commercial corridor, an airport and Interstate 26, once-dormant land in the heart of North Charleston is increasingly coming to life.
More than 20 acres of city-owned property off Casper Padgett Way has become home to a public workshop, a tri-county governmental agency and an animal shelter in the past several years.
But the biggest change on the site, located just east of the airport and Remount Road, came Wednesday when the city opened a new three-gym athletic center, serving as the largest indoor gymnasium in the tri-county region.
The $14 million North Charleston Athletic Center isn't far from Center Pointe, several hotels, restaurants and Tanger Outlets, and event venues such as the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center, and Charleston Area Convention Center.
The new athletic center is expected to benefit that part of the city by increasing tourism and hosting national tournaments.
Mayor Keith Summey is excited to see the area change. He foresees its growth as ultimately including more hotels near the new facility. He said the site is centrally located within the city, and it isn't taking up space for future commercial or residential development.
“It’s just a great opportunity that the entire Lowcountry can take advantage of," he said. "What you have to prepare for is as areas age ... retail, light industrial, commercial properties, they have to change. They change with the needs of things that are coming in."
The Navy owned the property until handing it over to the city about 20 years ago. The site once housed city offices until they were consolidated in the new City Hall in 2009, a move that freed up land for the new athletic center.
In a sense, this new center is part of the city's larger effort to repurpose the former Charleston Naval Base along the Cooper River, where a mixture of nonprofits, businesses and academic institutions have moved in. The city also has struggled with other former federal properties, such as the vacant former Charleston Naval Hospital, which the county now owns.
The new 51,000-square-foot athletic center includes three indoor gyms with hardwood floors designed for basketball, pickleball, volleyball and wrestling. The two-story building also includes a community space, event space and a mezzanine overlooking the courts.
The space will host large events, such as the city's annual Roundball Classic. The tournament, which features nine area high schools and seven others from across the country, is set for December. A gymnastics tournament is scheduled for later this year as well.
During Wednesday's ribbon cutting, Summey pointed out that the idea for the center stemmed from a conversation about travel ball opportunities. Summey noted Dot Scott, president of the Charleston Branch NAACP, raised concerns about area children being unable to afford the cost of traveling to other cities for recreational programs.
So Summey said the city decided to bring travel ball to residents' backyard. Scott also attended Wednesday's ceremony.
City Recreation Director Ed Barfield said he's in talks with the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority about creating a bus stop at the athletic center to make it more accessible to youths from lower-income neighborhoods.
Councilwoman Dorothy Williams expressed excitement over the project, located in her district just north of Highland Terrace.
"It is just the best thing to happen to this city," she said.
North Charleston residents Oscar Cierra and Adario James stopped by the center Wednesday. Accustomed to the city's smaller gyms at Ferndale, Danny Jones and Northwoods, they admitted some skepticism when they first heard about the city's planned three-gym complex.
They appeared to become believers after gazing at one of the courts' hardwood floors and comparing it to a college gym.
"This is a whole 'nother level," James said.