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The former Charleston Naval Hospital on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. File/Wade Spees/Staff

The highest bid Charleston County received for the former Charleston Naval Hospital property — which cost taxpayers $33 million in a legal settlement — was less than $4.5 million.

That's less than what North Charleston received for the property in 2012 when the city sold it to a group of developers that included Donald Trump Jr.

The group, Chicora Life, was supposed to renovate the former hospital as office space for Charleston County and other tenants but ended up in bankruptcy and litigation that led to the county settlement.

County spokesman Shawn Smetana said the two bids received by the county have been rejected. Top bidder Pace Burt Jr., of Georgia-based Pacebook & Associates, said county officials told him Monday they would be returning his $223,850 deposit check.

Pacebook had offered $4,477,000 for the entire property, which is more than 23 acres.

"I would have tried to do apartments in the building and maybe some more housing on the property," said Burt, whose company renovates large buildings in the Southeast.

He doesn't believe the county was serious about selling the property and called it a waste of time.

"It's just a show," Burt said. "I think that's why you only had two proposals."

The county had sought proposals for the large property at Rivers and McMillan avenues in North Charleston after abandoning a failed six-year redevelopment plan that's so far cost taxpayers more than $35 million, including upkeep and consultants.

The county had hoped to use part of the 10-story former hospital as a new home for county services such as drug treatment, but after becoming the owner of the property the county learned from consultants that it could cost another $66 million to finish renovating the building.

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An apparent former nurses station on the seventh floor of the former Charleston Naval Hospital on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Proposals were sought during the summer from potential buyers interested in purchasing all or part of the hospital property after Charleston County Council decided that the county will find a different home for public services, possibly by constructing a new building on the same property.

The second bid, submitted by Charleston-based CBRE Commercial Real Estate Services on behalf of clients Stephen Hammond and Michael Joukowsky, called for the county to sell a portion of the property but also agree to lease at least 100,000 square feet of space in a building that would be constructed on the site after demolition of the buildings there.

The group offered to initially buy 6 acres for $3 million, but said that price would be reduced by the cost of demolishing the hospital.

The county initially refused to make the two bids public but reversed course Thursday with a unanimous County Council vote to reveal the bids, on a motion by Councilman Joe Qualey. The Post and Courier had filed a Freedom of Information request for the information.

Qualey said Monday that the next steps for the county will be deciding whether to demolish the entire hospital building, and deciding what to do with the remaining land on the large property.

In the failed redevelopment that led to the county paying $33 million and acquiring the site, Charleston County had agreed to lease three floors of the former hospital, following renovations, for 25 years. The County Council's decision to cancel that agreement in 2016 after repeated delays and complaints about workmanship is what led to the Chicora Life group's lawsuit and declaration of bankruptcy.

In the end, the developers and their lenders made millions and the county wound up owning a vacant hospital that the federal government had sold at a surplus property auction for $2 million in 2012 to the city of North Charleston.

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Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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