In a case where Charleston County taxpayers have tens of millions of dollars at stake, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court trial is slated to begin Wednesday morning.
Chicora Life Center, the Utah-based owners of the former Naval Hospital at Rivers and McMillan avenues in North Charleston, hopes for a ruling that would force Charleston County to honor a lease agreement worth more than $29.4 million.
That would be in addition to any damages and legal fees, which Chicora Life Center is also seeking.
The county had planned to become the anchor tenant of a redeveloped Naval Hospital, leasing three floors of the tallest building in North Charleston and relocating some public services there starting in 2014. It was a plan meant to help revitalize a struggling area of North Charleston.
The lease agreement allowed the Chicora group investors — including Donald Trump Jr., a son of the U.S. president — to secure financing to redevelop the long-vacant hospital building. However, the county backed out of the deal in 2016 after complaints about repeated delays, missed deadlines and related issues such as multiple contractors claiming they weren't paid.
With the anchor tenant gone, Boston lender UC Funds foreclosed on the hospital property, claiming more than $15 million in debt, and the building owners sought bankruptcy protection and sued the county.
The bankruptcy filing came soon enough after the lease termination that U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge John E. Waites ruled that the lease was a disputed asset in the case.
Waites in court has urged the two sides to find common ground, but the county's legal team told him no trust remains between the opposing sides.
The Naval Hospital project began with great expectations after North Charleston acquired the property from the federal government in 2012 for $2 million, then quickly announced the Chicora group's redevelopment plan.