News Column

CURA loans funds to Staats project

June 12, 2014

By Matt Murphy, Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.

June 12--Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board members are working to finalize financial support for a renovation project at the Staats Hospital building on the West Side.

Board members voted Wednesday morning to offer Bullock Properties LLC a five-year, $230,000 loan at 1 percent interest.

Bullock Properties, operated by father-son team John and Tighe Bullock, is in the process of purchasing the Staats Hospital at 123 Washington St. W. from REO America, a Florida-based company.

Jim Edwards, Urban Renewal Authority director, said $64,000 would be distributed at the time of the sale, and the rest would be distributed after repairs are made to the roof and windows.

"They have to spend the money first," Edwards said.

Tighe Bullock was present at Wednesday's meeting.

"We're in the final stages of getting this process complete," he told board members.

Built in the 1920s, the four-story, 47,000-square-foot building was listed on the Charleston-based Realtor Rolston & Company website for an asking price of $149,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. The same website stated the building had an assessed value of $199,580.

Other than the loan, the Bullocks will get a $15,000 grant from the Charleston Area Alliance and have secured a $155,000 loan from First Bank of Charleston. The Bullocks will also use their own funds.

The authority also purchased a lot behind the Staats building last month for $124,000 from Genesis Capital Limited Partnership. That lot will be leased by the Bullocks for parking and Edwards said the Bullocks have the option to purchase the lot for the same price the authority paid.

Tony Marks, the acting president and chief executive officer of First Bank of Charleston, told authority board members he's worked with the Bullocks on previous projects on the West Side and vouched for their experience.

"They are uniquely qualified to take on this project," he said.

Several West Side and city officials attended the meeting to express support for the Bullocks' latest venture.

"I believe that the revitalization of this property will truly be a catalyst for redevelopment in the West Side," West Side Main Street Director Stephanie Johnson said.

Susan Pierce, the director of the State Historic Preservation Office who has toured the building, said she believes the building to be structurally sound and would assist the Bullocks in applying for tax credits for renovating historic buildings.

"It represents a lot of history for Charleston and it represents a lot of history for the West Side," she said. "I think this building is a critical building for that part of the West Side."

Last year, West Side Main Street coordinated with REO America to paint the plywood that was covering the broken windows on the front of the Staats building -- and action lauded by city officials as an improvement to the long-standing eyesore.

The Bullock purchase -- if and when finalized -- may be the last chance the building has to avoid the wrecking ball.

City Planning Director Dan Vriendt said water damage in the building was "unprecedented" and the roof is in need of major repair. If not corrected soon, the damage could be too costly to repair.

"Time is ticking on this building," he said.

Board members also:

--Heard from Bob Hardy, director of the Charleston Economic & Community Development Corp., who asked for a $100,000 loan and an additional grant for a West Side housing project.

Hardy proposed using an existing four-unit apartment building as collateral for the loan, which would be used to renovate older homes on the West Side. The grant would be for office space and employee salaries for a set number of years.

Board Chairman Jack Cavender said the loan money couldn't be used to pay off existing debt or existing liens against Charleston Economic & Community Development Corp. Those restrictions would therefore reduce the amount of money requested.

Board members said they would discuss the loan application at their next meeting after they had time to review the proposal.

--Received an update about community gardens on the East End and West Side that are planted on vacant property owned by the authority.

--Learned the state Division of Highways wanted to combine the authority's Smith Street Streetscape project with its own project, which is on an adjacent section of Smith Street.

Under the proposal, which board members approved,the authority's $120,000 contribution would be unchanged for the now $1.6 million project, and the Division of Highways will administer the project.

--Discussed damage to downtown streetscaping caused by utility companies that remove decorative bricks on the street and then do not replace those bricks.

The issue was brought up at the May meeting as well.

The authority helped fund the brick sidewalks and other streetscape improvements on and near Capitol Street in the mid 1980s.

City Engineer Chris Knox told board members repairs to the streetscape have been unfunded in recent years, and it was difficult to enforce utility companies repairing the street properly.

"If we're aware of shoddy work, we do tell them to redo it," Knox said.

Knox said if enough bricks are damaged, they are removed entirely when the city repaves a street.

However, board members said other utility companies do replace the bricks correctly and questioned why all utilities can't to the same.

Board member Rusty Webb said Frontier recently replaced the bricks in front of the building that holds his law office and did the job correctly.

"The point is they know how to do it right," Webb said. "I don't know why the city can't fix it and demand repayment from the utilities that caused it."

Board members said when new streetscape projects are proposed, design maintenance should be taken into consideration.

"We shouldn't accept a design that's not going to be maintained," Cavender said. "If they're not going to be maintained, why should we spend money on it?"


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Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)

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