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North Charleston transforms dilapidated school into revitalized office space

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From the outside, Ten Mile on Rivers Ave. (.pdf) looks like a brand new office building with its clean lines, fresh paint, green landscape. But stepping through the timber entryway, the character of the former 1960s school building beckons. Classrooms-turned-office-spaces line the cinder block hallways and polished cement floors. 

The formerly boarded-up Charlestowne Academy at 5841 Rivers Ave. was vacant and ignored for 15 years before developers breathed new life into it as professional office space. 

Jeff Baxter, development consultant and CityVolve leasing agent for Ten Mile on Rivers Ave., teamed up with lead developers at 4S Construction. Together they saw value in the blighted building on Ten Mile Hill, aptly named for the mileage marker to Charleston’s Broad Street.

“Our development goals were to reuse the existing building, versus tear it down and try to do something new,” Baxter said.  

The building was in need of rehab, if not for its own use, for the surrounding area’s. As buildings becomes obsolete, surrounding spaces tend to follow suit, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said. Like begets like after all, and Summey hopes this redeveloped asset draws in new businesses that swing the pendulum in the other direction, enhancing the street.

“These types of projects are incremental,” Baxter said. “Property by property there’s investments made and it encourages other investments along that same corridor.”

North Charleston’s plans for the entire Rivers Avenue corridor, from Ten Mile down to Reynolds Avenue, is changing, Summey said. 
“It’s going to be more of a commercial corridor with enhanced residential behind it as well where you’ve got people that can live, work in the same area,” he said.

The former elementary school sits on 5 acres with more than a dozen 800-square-foot classrooms and wide hallways. Baxter said the spaciousness is a very attractive feature for renters returning from the pandemic, Baxter said.

The 13 classrooms maintain their original space, though some have been divided to create 400-square-foot two-person offices and 250-square-foot executive offices. 

“We worked with what the building gave us,” Baxter said.

Six tenants have leased offices as of press time and Baxter said the building is available to a wide range of professionals, not one industry type in particular, and the rent accommodates that. 

“I think tenants like the space, the location and the accessibility,” he said. “But then it’s having the historic character of that building, which is kind of a unique office product. There’s not a whole lot in that immediate area.”

Ten Mile on Rivers Ave. offers additional amenities with a conference room, shared kitchen space and flex spaces throughout the building that allow users to work away from their desks.

The building’s former kitchen, library and multi-media room then provide even larger spaces for growing companies. 

VIP Marketing, Craft Creative and Ten Mile Studios are the anchor tenant of the building. After outgrowing his Park Circle offices, Eric Elliott, owner of the digital marketing and production companies, relocated his businesses into the multi-media space.

Elliott had been working with Baxter and his colleague Anne Lawless to find something outside of the box where he could house all three companies when Ten Mile on Rivers Ave. popped up.

The first time Elliott saw the building, it was masked by overgrown shrubs and run down. But Baxter and Lawless shared the vision for it.
“When I walked through and I looked at the building, I saw the potential,” Elliott said. “By then there were no plans or anything else, but I saw the boxes that we needed and I could kind of imagine ourselves there.”

Though Elliott knew the revitalization would be an undertaking, he saw Ten Mile Studios and its space becoming the new Sears for The Citadel Mall — an adaptive reuse studio that could offer a huge value to producers in the region. 

The business owner’s three companies now takes up the entire multi-media room, which still had green screens and infinity walls. Developers made valuable use of every square foot, carving out a portion of the hallways for VIP Productions’ editing room. There’s also a podcast room, a conference room and an office for Elliott.

Though Ten Mile Studios will be the primary user of the studio, Elliott welcomes creators from all around who need a production facility. He feels it’s his way to give back to the community, just as the school did in the ’60s. 

“The school has so much history and I, in a way, feel like it was kind of made for us, like it was supposed to happen this way… I see our future in it and I see a better way for us to be able to serve people,” Elliott said. 

A class act

Beyond its original use as a school, the evolution of the Ten Mile building runs deep. The structure started as an elementary school in the 1960s, but slowly became obsolete when residents moved away from the area, particularly when the Navy Base closed. The neighborhood was eventually replaced with a commercial corridor.

In the late ’80s or so, the building was re-used as a cultural arts facility for North Charleston programming. The property then was repurposed again, possibly as a church, before eventually getting tied up in an easement issue with the property next door and falling out of the picture, Summey said. He thought the adjacent Jones Ford dealership would have bought the property to expand, but instead the building deteriorated.

Summey said he is excited for what the formerly vacant building has now become in 2021 and for the energy it will inject into the area. 
He envisions a “renourishment” of the Rivers Avenue community with retail, medical offices, traditional office space and affordable housing, especially suited for young people. Zoning will determine what can follow Ten Mile, but the goal is create opportunities on each side of Rivers Avenue. While a tremendous undertaking, Summey said the city now has an opportunity to rethink what can be done to make the community better. 

Already, North Charleston has grown with the Medical University of South Carolina’s children’s hospital on Mall Drive, a new VA clinic that opened this winter on Rivers Avenue, the county services building on McMillan Avenue that’s under construction and more supporting projects.

“We want to let the businesses along there know that we’re supporting them and helping them to maintain their locations, and trying to then help grow that corridor where they can be more successful in their operations,” Summey said.

Reach Teri Errico Griffis at 843-849-3144.

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