The Naval Hospital building in North Charleston needs to come down.
That fact has been apparent ever since Charleston County officials came up with estimates that suggested that attempting to finish renovations in the building would cost more than tearing it down and building new facilities.
And it’s even clearer now that experts with the Urban Land Institute have recommended demolition following an intensive weeklong study that involved gathering public input and analyzing options for breathing new life into North Charleston’s southern end.
It’s a shame that the hospital couldn’t have been refurbished and turned into a community asset. But after more than $33 million in taxpayer funds have already been spent on a useless building, it’s imperative to opt for the lowest cost, most viable option moving forward.
Fortunately, Charleston County Council seems to be on the same page.
But the ULI study made another significant recommendation worth considering — moving a planned drug treatment facility to a different site, such as the former Verizon building near North Charleston City Hall.
Charleston County’s involvement with the Naval Hospital property started as an effort to build new facilities for county offices and services. The bulk of the necessary space was to house state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse programs.
And while that service is tremendously important in helping people recover from destructive and potentially deadly addictions, it’s not necessarily an ideal way to jumpstart improvements in a long-struggling part of North Charleston.
Several of the other recommendations presented by the ULI on Friday aren’t new. They’re similar to proposals that advocates of action in southern North Charleston — including this editorial staff — have been making for years.
But they remain urgent. And both County Council and North Charleston City Council should work to ensure that sensible upgrades can boost the vitality and prosperity of the area while minimizing negative impacts on long-term residents.
That means allowing a mix of uses and modest increases in density, particularly along the Rivers Avenue corridor, which is expected to soon feature the Charleston region’s first true mass transit system.
It means creative approaches to housing affordability, including efforts to help renters in an area with one of the highest eviction rates in the country.
It means adding or improving useful and potentially lifesaving features like sidewalks and bike lanes, which could require the cooperation of the state Department of Transportation.
It means addressing the lack of access to fresh produce in the short-term — the ULI suggested a farmers market as part of a planned new bus hub on Rivers Avenue — and bringing in a grocery store in the long-term.
It means making lots of small-scale, low-risk investments in turning underutilized spaces into places where people can gather and enjoy themselves. Several community organizations in the area are already working on important projects and should help lead the way in the future.
There is so much potential in the Naval Hospital site and the surrounding neighborhoods. Charleston County and North Charleston must work more closely with the community there and facilitate the tools and programs to support positive change.