Charleston County's decision to give up on renovating the former Charleston Naval Hospital sets in motion a multi-million dollar puzzle involving at least three buildings, a nearly 24-acre redevelopment site in North Charleston and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Once the pieces come together, the outcome will determine where thousands of Charleston County residents will work or get public services, whether the tallest building in North Charleston will remain standing and just how much more money the county's taxpayers will have to spend.
"It just breaks my heart to think that they would tear that building (the former hospital) down," said Ladson resident Bill Crymes, who is retired from the Air Force. "That's like a landmark to me. My youngest son was born there."
Charleston County Council decided Thursday, in a 7-1 vote after a two-hour closed-door session, to walk away from a six-year effort to renovate the former Naval Hospital. The county had planned to be a tenant there, and a development group that included Donald Trump Jr. was supposed to renovate the building. Instead, the project wound up in bankruptcy court and the county paid $33 million to settle a lawsuit and became owner of the property last year.
Faced with a $66 million estimate for completing renovations in a 45-year-old building far larger than the county needs, the council decided to construct a new building instead, possibly on the same property.
Councilman Elliott Summey, a commercial real estate developer, estimated the county could build a class-A office building for roughly $30 million, including added costs associated with regulations for inpatient drug treatment facilities.
"It's a lot better than $66 million. And we get a new building," he said
The council decision was a compromise between factions determined to move county services to the property at Rivers and McMillan avenues, partly as a way to help the surrounding North Charleston community, and council members who wanted nothing more to do with the vacant and nearly 400,000-square-foot former hospital.
The fate of the property, and the hospital building, is expected to remain unknown until at least Sept. 7. That's the deadline for bids the county has been soliciting to see if anyone wants to buy the entire property, or a 15-acre portion of the property that would include the former Naval Hospital.
If the county accepts an offer for the 15-acre portion of the property, that would leave the county with 8 acres that include a former 71-room barracks building, at McMillan and Spruill avenues — plenty of space for a new county building. The fate of the former hospital would then be up to whomever buys it.
"The building, I think, had great potential," said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Elliott Summey's father. "I don't know what happened with the people who were renovating it — the time element became so lengthy."
North Charleston briefly owned the property after buying it from the federal government at auction in 2012 for $2 million. The city sold it to the developers who were supposed to renovate the hospital and lease space to Charleston County.
Even during bankruptcy proceedings in 2016 and 2017, the large, centrally located property attracted some interest. During the bankruptcy case of the developers, plans were discussed to sell off the corners of the property for developments, such as gas stations, and there was also an offer to buy the entire site for $8.5 million.
Another interested party involved in solving the puzzle is the Medical University of South Carolina. The county's former plan to lease space in the hospital called for relocating services from Charleston Center, a county building in downtown Charleston, and then selling the center to MUSC for an estimated $17 million.
That deal was never completed, but the county still hopes to relocate the services and sell the building, and MUSC on Friday confirmed that the institution remains "very interested" in the property.