The former Charleston Naval Hospital (copy) (copy)

The former Charleston Naval Hospital at Rivers and McMillan avenues. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Dozens of acres of publicly owned land in North Charleston's south end, including the county-owned Naval Hospital site, are seen as a key to revitalizing that struggling part of the city.

The latest effort to come up with the best plan starts Monday, and community residents have a role to play.

The $125,000 week-long study by the Urban Land Institute will follow several earlier plans for the area, some of which were never realized and others that could be influenced by ULI's recommendations.

“We focus more on next steps — what to do to make things happen," said Cali Slepin, a senior associate at ULI.

The 23-acre site of the former Charleston Naval Hospital at Rivers and McMillan avenues will be a focus of the planning effort.

"It's essentially the core of the area," said Ryan Johnson, who handles economic development and public relations in Mayor Keith Summey's office.

2011 plan for neck area (copy) (copy)

A previous planning effort for the area around River and McMillan avenues was developed in 2011, sponsored by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments. However, governmental and private land owners had different ideas. File/Provided

Charleston County already has a plan for the property at Rivers and McMillan avenues, which taxpayers have purchased several times.

The federal government owned the site that was home to a hospital serving the Naval Base, then sold it to North Charleston in 2012 for $2 million. The city sold the property to a development group that was supposed to renovate the 10-story building, but Charleston County ended up paying $33 million to settle a lawsuit resulting from that failed project and now owns the property.

The county's plan is to demolish all the buildings on the property, including the former 175-bed hospital, then build new offices for county social services on the property and encourage private redevelopment of most of the remaining site. A bus transportation hub is also in the plan.

A plan for the former Charleston Naval Hospital site, 2 of 2 (copy) (copy)

An emerging Charleston County plan for the former Charleston Naval Hospital site envisions extensive private development of the 23-acre property in North Charleston at Rivers and McMillan avenues. File/Provided

The ULI study — jointly funded by the county, city and Coastal Conservation League — could result in a competing vision, which is to be unveiled April 5.

Charleston County Council agreed in February to contribute $50,000 toward the ULI study, although some council members had concerns.

Councilman Henry Darby, who represents the portion of North Charleston the study will focus upon, complained that people associated with the study met with other members of County Council but not with him. Council Chairman Elliott Summey, whose father is mayor of North Charleston, said he'll be focused on what residents want.  

“I don’t care what ULI says,” Summey said in February. “I care about what the community says.”

economic struggles shopping cart tires (copy) (copy)

Rivers Avenue between Reynolds and McMillan avenues is a thoroughfare where many pass through in cars — and where others struggle just to cross — on Monday, August 20, 2018. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Here's how interested residents can meet with the land-use experts, share opinions and learn more:

  • Monday starting at 5 p.m., the ULI group will be at St. Matthew Baptist Church, 2005 Reynolds Ave., for a public introduction and to meet and talk with community members, for about 90 minutes.
  • Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m., the ULI group will return to St. Matthews for another chance to meet with members of the community.
  • Friday at 9 a.m., at North Charleston City Hall, the study group will present its preliminary findings and recommendations.

The ULI study will look at the area from Spruill Avenue to Meeting Street Road and from Cosgrove Avenue to the former Kmart shopping center north of McMillan Avenue. There are several government-owned properties along Rivers Avenue, and it's the path for the planned Bus Rapid Transit system. North Charleston owns land at Rivers and McMillan avenues, where the city has long sought to attract a grocery store.

Shipwatch Square deal falls through (copy) (copy)

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey points out where a grocery store would go, on a conceptual rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Shipwatch Square and the former Naval Hospital, in 2012. The Naval Hospital redevelopment failed, costing Charleston County $33 million, and there's still no grocery store in the area. File/Staff

"We speak to folks on that issue almost every week," Johnson said. "As you can imagine, we’ve talked to every grocer in the Carolinas."

A new federal tax incentive to invest in lower-income areas, called Opportunity Zones, could prompt investors to take a second look at the area.

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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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