Former naval hospital to become Chicora Life Center

1405963933-Chicora-renderingCharleston Naval Hospital opened at 3600 Rivers Ave. in North Charleston in 1973 and closed in 2010. It is scheduled to reopen in early 2015 as the Chicora Life Center. (Rendering/provided)

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published July 21, 2014

The former Charleston Naval Hospital is being renovated and is scheduled to be reopened early next year as the Chicora Life Center.

The nearly 400,000-square-foot, 10-story facility at 3600 Rivers Ave. in North Charleston opened as a hospital in 1973 and closed in 2010. Two years later, the city of North Charleston purchased about 40 acres of land that included the former hospital and the adjacent Shipwatch Square shopping center. The city then sold the properties earlier this year to Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC for $9.2 million.

Chicora Gardens Holdings is investing an initial $3 million to renovate the former hospital, according to Doug Durbano, the center’s manager. Selective interior demolition has been approved by the S.C. Department of Health & Environmental Control and should begin within two weeks.

“It just struck us. ... It should be a social services hub,” Durbano said during a press conference Friday. “We needed a place where all of these essential social services could come together. The recipients of these kinds of things are sometimes in a situation where being bounced around and just having to travel is so burdensome and such a barrier that it adds additional injury to the process.”

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the Chicora-Cherokee area of North Charleston “has been crying out for redevelopment.” (Photo/Ashley Barker)North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the Chicora-Cherokee area of North Charleston “has been crying out for redevelopment.” (Photo/Ashley Barker)

CLICK TO VIEW IMAGE FULL SIZE. The 400,000-square-foot Chicora Life Center will be located in the former Charleston Naval Hospital at 3600 Rivers Ave. in North Charleston. (Rendering/provided)The 400,000-square-foot Chicora Life Center will be located in the former Charleston Naval Hospital at 3600 Rivers Ave. in North Charleston. (Rendering/provided/Click map to view larger)

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Beginning in January, companies and government agencies will start moving into renovated portions of the building. DHEC’s Division of Vital Records and Statistics, the Charleston County Coroner’s Office, the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, DHEC and Fetter Health Care Networks Inc. have already signed leases for space in the facility.

Other tenants are finalizing contracts, and the facility could also see a grocery store, cafeteria, fitness club and rooftop garden. Walking and biking trails, a community recreation center, a library, museums and child care facilities are possible as well. There will be a children’s park, with fountains and play areas, in the front of the facility.

Charleston County, which signed a lease for 25 years on June 30, will pay $12 per square foot each year, according a spokesman for the center.

“We recognized the need and opportunity to transition numerous county services from a number of disparate locations to a single, easily accessible service point,” Charleston County Administrator Kurt Taylor said. “That is a benefit to residents and one that will continue to grow as more tenants sign on.”

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the timing of the renovation is perfect because it brings activity back to the area.

“This is almost a dream come true for me because for years as we looked at the naval hospital in its closed position, we talked about a one-stop shop for social services where people could come to one location and get all the services they need,” Summey said. “Once it became vacated, the shopping center across the street died. We had some of the small businesses in the area die as well and the little restaurants that required activity and movement of people. This is an opportunity to reconvert this building as an operating facility that brings people into this area.”

The next major hurdle is opening a grocery store, according to Summey.

“We’re going to get it. We will have that in operation within the next two years, whether it’s public-owned or community-owned or whether it’s owned by the private sector,” he said. “We’re going to get a grocery store if it’s a city of North Charleston grocery store. We’re going to provide for those people.”

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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