|By David Slade, The Post and Courier,
Charleston, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 12, 2011--Driving along Charleston's upper King and Meeting streets, it would be easy to look at some of the empty lots and vacant buildings and wonder what became of the grand development plans for the area.
"It's kind of amazing that a Piggly Wiggly is the most attractive building there right now," said Kevin Phelps, who owns a house on Mary Street where he plans to retire. "Something has to be the spark that gets the fire going."
In early 2007, when the real estate market was still roaring, at least a dozen projects involving hundreds of condos, four new hotels and lots of new office and retail space were planned in the seven-block area from Calhoun Street to Spring Street. Not one of the big projects has been completed.
"If anybody can build out that section (near Spring Street), it will greatly improve the appearance of that end of the city," Phelps said.
Some of the development projects on the books in 2007 did fall by the wayside, but it turns out that others were just hibernating.
Developers and city planning officials say work has started, or will begin next year, on major projects that will add more than 550 hotel rooms, at least 200 luxury apartment units, and a new corporate headquarters to the area.
"I've never been busier," said Christopher Price, of PrimeSouth Group, a commercial real estate developer with offices on Upper King. "This whole area is going to be under construction."
Price said for several years, everything in the area, except for small retail projects, was stalled due to economic conditions.
"2008 was when things totally locked up," he said. "People don't understand how close this country came to a (financial) catastrophe."
Up and coming
Today, PrimeSouth and Price Capital Holdings are preparing to develop in two phases a 55,000-square-foot headquarters on King Street for a corporation whose name Price would not disclose.
The project involves renovating and adding space to a building at 466-468 King this fall, then expanding onto an adjacent property that's now home to Charleston Beer Works, in 2013.
The companies also are pursuing a larger project, across King Street from the headquarters site, that Price said could involve a boutique hotel and parking garage.
Farther north, at Spring Street, are two projects considered crucial to the Upper King and Meeting area. The projects were once a single condominium and hotel development known as Midtown, covering four acres from King to Meeting along Spring Street.
Today the property has been divided, with a roughly 200-apartment development that Charleston-based Greystar Real Estate Partners is proposing at Spring and Meeting, instead of condos. A 238-room hotel is planned at Spring and King by Atlanta's Regent Partners and local developer CC&T Real Estate.
Both projects would include additional commercial space on King and Meeting streets, and both have the necessary city approvals and are ready to go.
"Over the past year, we have been closely monitoring the construction debt markets and determining which hotel operator would be the best fit for the project," said Stuart Coleman of CC&T. "Construction should begin in 2012."
Nearby, on Meeting Street at Reid Street, Charlotte-based Tara Group is set to break ground on a five-story, 120-room full-service Holiday Inn that received final design approval from the city in October.
And at Meeting Street across from Marion Square, two more hotel projects will add 211 rooms. The Courtyard by Marriott at Meeting and Calhoun streets is completing a 50-room expansion, and work has started on the former Mendel Rivers Federal Building, slated to become a 161-room high-end hotel.
The Mendel Rivers project still needs final architectural approval from the city. Dewberry Capital, which bought the property in 2007 for $15 million, is addressing asbestos issues in the building that were known prior to its purchase.
Several additional projects in the area also could get new life, including a plan to build apartments where condos had once been proposed at 400 Meeting St., and the possible renovation of the Millennium Music building at King and Calhoun.
Question marks for the area include the fate of the former Charleston County Library building at Marion Square and King Street, where a hotel plan has been tied up in zoning-related litigation, and the fate of high-visibility parcel at Woolfe and Meeting streets next to the Greystar apartment deal.
The Charleston School of Law owns that land, uses it for student parking, and "at this point, there are no other plans for it," spokesman Andy Brack said.
And, a bit farther north on the Upper King and Meeting corridor, Evening Post Publishing Co. (parent company of The Post and Courier) controls about 12 acres, some of which are large, undeveloped parcels.
Evening Post CEO John Barnwell said the company expects to develop a master plan for the properties, and is watching the nearby hotel and apartment developments with interest. In addition to The Post and Courier building at King and Columbus streets, the company owns a large vacant lot at Meeting and Columbus streets, a large surface parking lot on King at Columbus, an empty lot at King and Line, and several smaller buildings on King.
The company has announced no development plans and has not submitted any plans to the city.
"The march of retail up King Street, the Holiday Inn ... and the Greystar project ... have all helped prove that the Upper King and Upper Meeting corridor is downtown's fastest-growing area," said Coleman of CC&T.
In early 2007, when the real estate market was still firing on all cylinders, The Post and Courier reported on the many redevelopment projects planned along Charleston's Upper King and Meeting streets.
Here's where they stand today:
Then: A 235-room luxury hotel and up to 205 condos with ground-level boutiques, shops and restaurants was proposed on a 4-acre site along King, Spring and Meeting streets.
Now: The property has been divided between two companies, the proposed condos are now apartments, and construction is expected to begin in 2012.
Roughly half the property, on the Meeting and Spring streets side, was sold to Greystar Real Estate Partners, which is seeking final city approvals to develop a 200-unit apartment building with ground-floor commercial space. The other half, on the King and Spring streets side, was approved in 2008 for development of a 238-room hotel, plus 20,000 square feet of retail space on King Street, and an equal amount of residential and office space above the stores.
Then: Plans called for a 180-room spa hotel with a 187-space parking garage.
Now: The development site no longer includes the Burris Liquor property at Reid and Meeting streets, but the hotel plan for the remainder of the property is a go. The five-story, 120-room Holiday Inn at 425 Meeting St. received final city approvals Aug. 29. Site work is under way.
3. 400 Meeting St.
Then: A five-story building with 34 condos and 25 townhomes was planned for this vacant lot.
Now: The property has changed hands, and the new plan calls for a 42-unit apartment complex. The proposal went before the city's Technical Review Committee in June.
4. The Courtyards
Then: The owner of the pink, 3-acre apartment complex, planned to redevelop the site in the next several years.
Now: No plans have been proposed.
5. Mixed use
Then: Several developers had announced plans for smaller projects combining retail, office and residential uses in new or renovated buildings.
Now: A 24-condo plan at Reid and Meetings streets called Green on Meeting fell by the wayside, but an unrelated plan to redevelop a vacant building at 466-468 King is slated to begin this fall. Developer Chris Price says the building will be the first phase of a site for a new corporate headquarters.
The second phase, which involves the adjacent site that's now home to Charleston Beer Works, would expand that project in 2013 to 55,000 square feet.
Then: PrimeSouth Group and Price Capital Holdings had assembled 3 acres with frontage on King, St. Philip and Radcliffe streets. A mixed-use development was planned, though no details were announced.
Now: The companies continue to pursue the "McIntosh Project" and hope to develop a boutique hotel on King, office and residential space on St. Philip and a parking garage in between.
7. School of Law
Then: Charleston School of Law owned a site on Mary Street, signed a letter of intent to buy the AT&T building on Meeting Street and was considering development of a parking lot at Meeting and Woolfe streets.
Now: The school has grown, and now owns or leases at least eight properties on King, Meeting and Mary streets. No plans to develop the Woolfe Street site (in between the Tara hotel and Greystar apartment developments) have been announced.
Then: Work began in 2005 on a $13 million-plus face-lift of the Upper King area, from Calhoun to Carolina street.
Now: The project was completed in 2007. It included new curbs, sidewalks, crosswalks, underground utilities and street trees.
9. Rail line/greenway
Then: The unused end of a rail line runs between King and Meeting streets. The city would like to see a greenway there, and is studying the potential for passenger rail service to Summerville.
Now: The city still likes the idea, but it hasn't moved ahead. The rail line and right-of-way is still owned by Norfolk Southern.
10. Hilton Hotel
Then: An eight-story, 185-room hotel was planned at Marion Square. Preservation groups were challenging the city's approval of the project.
Now: Litigation related to the 2007 zoning changes is ongoing. A long-vacant library still occupies the site.
Then: Developers were planning to tear down the buildings that housed Millennium Music and other businesses, and construct an eight-story building with condominiums, offices and shops.
Now: The building was purchased, the businesses moved out, and it's been sitting vacant since 2008. New owners have been talking with city planners about renovating instead.
12. Federal building
Then: The city hoped to buy the Mendel Rivers building to guide its redevelopment as a mix of residential and commercial uses.
Now: Dewberry Capital bought the vacant structure in late 2007 for $15 million. Asbestos remediation work is under way, and zoning has been approved for a 161-room hotel. Final Board of Architectural Review approval is still needed.
13. Boutique hotel
Then: A 66-room inn was in the planning stages for a site on John Street.
Now: The site remains a parking lot. The inn plan was not pursued.
14. Hotel expansion
Then: A five-story addition with meeting space and 37 new rooms was proposed.
Now: The number of new guest rooms was increased to 50. The expansion is under construction at the former Holiday Inn, now a Courtyard by Marriott.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.
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