City Moves to Buy Federal Building

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The City of Charleston is pursuing the $11.5 million purchase of the federal building on Meeting Street, one of the last unimproved structures facing Marion Square. The city plans to take the 2-plus-acre property and lay out detailed development plans and then turn the property over to a selected developer.

The building has been abandoned for years and is considered by some to be an eyesore and recognized by most as a hive for asbestos and lead paint.

Mayor Riley says that he first refused the federal government’s offer for the property, but then reconsidered the opportunity.

“We have the ability to affirmatively shape a good bit of a block of the city,” Riley says.

While some preservationists have eyed protecting the building — more over concern about what would replace it than worrying over preserving the relatively young structure — the mayor said he wants the building demolished. But he said that the asbestos and lead paint could be treated and aren’t barriers to restoration.

“Our appraisal is that the land is worth more without the building there,” Riley says. The six-story building is also 80 percent taller than what would be allowed on the property under the city’s current height ordinance. “It’s out of scale.”

The city's purchase will include a requirement that the city not profit from the sale of the property if it changes hands in the first five years. The city will be able to recoup any costs of the property, but Riley says he’s fine with not making any money on this deal.

“Our purpose in this instance is not to make money on the property,” Riley says. “That’s the private sectors business. The city’s business is to shape and guide the redevelopment of the city.”

Determining the properties use will include community input, but Riley laid out his vision for the property, including two buildings to replace the federal building facing Meeting, with residential property wrapping around the back of the property. The city is also negotiating the potential purchase or the parallel development of property on the same block that’s owned by a neighboring church.

Council member Henry Fishburne voted in support of the purchase, but he says he’s concerned about the one-sided slant of the potential sale, with the federal government all but washing its hands of the property.

“This is one of the most one-way contracts I’ve ever seen,” he says. “There’s so many hooks and tangles in this.”

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