A vacant, six-story office building on the old Navy base in North Charleston is slated for redevelopment.
Property owners plan to turn the 45-year-old Engineering-Management Building, which once centralized administrative duties on the former military complex, into office space possibly for defense contractors and other businesses.
“We might have some retail with restaurants on the first floor, but we haven’t gotten that far," said Mark Taylor, president of Stone Street Capital and one of the owners.
And while the building isn't that old, it's being considered a historic structure.
The State Board of Review for the S.C. Department of Archives & History recently advanced a nomination for the building on Noisette Boulevard to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The nomination will go for final review to Washington, D.C., where the application will likely be approved within the next few months, said Katherine Saunders Pemberton, a member of the review board and manager of research and education at Historic Charleston Foundation.
“It's really unusual for them to kick it back down to us," she said. “I think the odds are in favor of eventual listing.”
The Historic Charleston Foundation praised the efforts being made to preserve the site, noting that National Register listings open up the door for historic tax credits, which enable the preservation of buildings that could otherwise be lost.
“I think we're seeing a true revival of a lot of buildings on the old Navy base," Pemberton said.
Property owners are also looking to acquire other incentives, such as Opportunity Zone tax credits, which would help with the costs of redeveloping the site.
The owners have been unable to take advantage of the benefit since they bought the building before 2017, when the incentive was created, Taylor said. But he added that they are looking to joint venture with an Opportunity Zone investor in order to take advantage of the tax benefits.
“We're real early in the process," he said. "We hope to have pretty good focus on what we want to do by early spring.”
To many people, the structure built in 1974 might appear unimpressive. The large, concrete building has a modest design and contains deeply recessed and vertically oriented windows.
The Engineering-Management Building is the only brutalist-style structure on the former shipyard and only one of few still standing in the Charleston region. Until now, people haven't highly valued the architecture, Pemberton said.
The stripped down, bare-bone office building points to post-World War II era themes, when the federal government sought to convey ideas such as progressiveness, thriftiness and strength.
The building’s simple exterior design fell in line with the frugality that the government embraced, and the architecture firm that designed the space used inexpensive materials to maintain affordability.
"It definitely reflects the time in which it was constructed," Pemberton said. "That’s one of the whole points of historic preservation.”
The building’s interior is largely intact overall, although some areas have lost original materials. The structure contains office spaces used by secretaries and Navy officials, as well as original ceiling tiles, light fixtures, flooring, windows, restroom fixtures, and doors.
Primary features include a first-level cafeteria and a top-floor auditorium that contains about 100 seats, which feature original folding ashtrays in the seatbacks.
Decades-old photos show engineers wearing large glasses and short-sleeved dress shirts with pocket protectors, Taylor said.
When the building is developed, it will be one of several that have undergone rehabilitation on the now-closed federal compound. The Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority is putting the final touches on the Admiral's House, which will become a bed-and-breakfast.
But while there's much activity happening on the base, Councilman Michael Brown, who represents the district that contains much of the old base and other parts of North Charleston's south end, pointed to several changes happening in adjacent areas.
A transportation company's plans to create a 556,000-square-foot warehouse on Reynolds Avenue, along with the state's work to create a railyard in North Charleston, raise concerns about how nearby neighborhoods will be impacted by new growth, he said.