What's next at North Charleston's Garco site 

Plans for arts center and full-sized grocery get scrapped at the Park Circle site

A rush of new development is coming soon to the Garco site in North Charleston, a near-vacant swath of more than 40 acres in Park Circle that was once home to the General Asbestos and Rubber Company.

The Beach Company bought much of the land out of federal bankruptcy court in the first years of the millennium, originally intending to build an industrial park with rail access. Over the years, the Beach Company unveiled various plans to build townhouses, three-story office buildings, and a full-size grocery store on the site. All of those plans have been scrapped, as has the city's plan to build a new arts center in Garco's old brick mill building.

Here's what to expect:

1. Apartments

The Beach Company plans to build a 271-unit apartment complex called the Factory at Garco. Amenities will include a swimming pool, fire pit, dog park, dog washing room, car wash, boat wash, and boat storage yard. The complex will have 510 parking spaces. Construction is expected to begin as early as June, and the first units could be available for rent by the summer of 2016.

According to Beach Company Vice President of Development Kent Johnson, the units will be mostly studios and one-bedroom apartments, with some two-bedroom and three-bedroom units, and rent prices are currently expected to range from the mid-$800s to mid-$1,800s. The price point is up from this time last year, when Johnson estimated that rent would start in the mid-$700s. Johnson says the change in price is partly due to the continuing costs of cleanup on the site (see No. 11).

Johnson says he's keeping an eye on Mixson, a development on the opposite side of Park Circle. "[Some of] Mixson is actually a little higher than these numbers," he says. "So we'll probably be able to do a little better than that, but that's our target right now."

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2. Traffic on Walker Street

The new apartment complex will include an exit onto Walker Street, a little-used residential street. Some homeowners there worry that their neighborhood will be overwhelmed with new traffic as commuters zip through to access North Rhett Avenue en route to I-526.

"The traffic on North Rhett is already pretty tough during commute hours," says Jeff Whitehead, a Walker Street resident.

The Beach Company already has the city's approval for its development plan under the amended terms of its Planned Development District zoning at the site. Johnson says he is still waiting on the results of a revised traffic study that will show the impact on surrounding residential streets.

3. Urban Electric Company

The Urban Electric Company, a designer and builder of custom light fixtures, plans to purchase land from the Beach Company and build a new headquarters on Virginia Avenue.

Some of the company's 210 employees will stay at its current warehouse site on North Hobson Avenue in the Navy Yard, and large deliveries will continue to be made at the Navy Yard site. Dawson says the goal is to start construction by the end of the year and complete it in about 14 months. The company will also have the option of buying an adjacent lot from the Beach Company.

4. New park

As part of a purchase agreement that was approved by City Council last Thursday, the Urban Electric Company will buy the Garco mill building (see No. 6) and some adjacent land from the city of North Charleston for $1 million. Under the terms of the agreement, the Urban Electric Company will develop a hardscaped open-air park on the land, which it will then lease to the city for $100 a year.

City Councilman Bob King, whose district includes the Garco site and Park Circle, says the city intends to use the park for some of its street festivals, which traditionally have required shutting down the busy Olde Village restaurant and retail district on East Montague Avenue several times a year.

5. High-speed internet

Moncks Corner-based Home Telecom has signed a deal with the Beach Company to offer blazingly fast Velocity internet access in the Factory at Garco apartments. Fiber optic cables will allow data transfer speeds of 1,000 megabits per second. (For comparison purposes, the average transfer speed in South Carolina has been estimated at 26 megabits per second.)

Home Telecom will also set up free community wifi in the Garco area.

6. Garco mill building

Garco was one of the area's biggest employers in the early 20th century. Some longtime Park Circlers still remember family members who worked at the Garco plant, manufacturing asbestos textile products that were used in the construction of many homes in the neighborhood.

The City of North Charleston purchased the only remaining Garco building, along with the adjacent tracts now slated for a park and a parking lot, for $1.5 million in December 2013. The plan was to renovate the iconic brick building into a new home for the Cultural Arts Department, including artist studios and apartments, a 300-seat theater, and an art gallery.

Recently, the city abandoned that plan due to the prohibitive cost of renovating the building. As part of the $1 million purchase agreement, the Urban Electric Company intends to buy the mill building and renovate it into office and retail space. For that task, they'll enlist the help of real estate developer William S. Cogswell, who has also been involved with the intensive renovations at the Cigar Factory in downtown Charleston.

"From my perspective, it's an incredible opportunity to take this site that's been dormant for far too long and activate it," Cogswell says.

7. Public parking

The city of North Charleston, which will retain this property under the terms of its purchase agreement, has demolished the vacant EMA office building and plans to pave the lot to create overflow parking for the popular shops and restaurants along East Montague Avenue.

At a May 14 City Council meeting, Mayor Keith Summey said that while the city had given up on building an arts center in the mill building next door, it might still consider building an arts facility on this piece of property. "What we still want to put here is a production theater," he said.

8. Empire Avenue widening

The city plans to change two-lane Empire Avenue into a three-lane road. According to a city spokesman, the purpose is to encourage drivers to take Empire instead of East Montague Avenue when entering and exiting the Garco site.

9. Adams Outdoor headquarters

Atlanta-based billboard advertising company Adams Outdoor has begun construction on its new Charleston-area headquarters at the Garco site. The office is relocating from Ladson and will have about 40 employees when it opens, possibly in November. The new headquarters will include an office building and a small warehouse to be used by billboard crews and operations staff.

Adams Outdoor originally bought the 1.3-acre property from Ocean Boulevard Properties in 2008. Randy Romig, Adams' vice president of real estate and asset management, says the company was interested in the unique setting and the nearby Olde Village.

"I like what they've done on East Montague with the planting, the landscaping, the flower beds," Romig says. "The whole thing just has a very approachable charm that we like as a multimedia company."

10. Retail space

The Beach Company plans to have four retail pads available with a parking lot facing Chateau Avenue and street parking along a newly extended O'Hear Avenue.

"We will probably get some restaurants, we'll probably get a health club, [and] we'll maybe get a couple of two-story uses with maybe offices or residential over retail," Johnson says. "The idea is active pedestrian streetscape."

Residents of Park Circle have been crossing their fingers for a full-service grocery store for years, and the Beach Company has previously hinted at the possibility of attracting a supermarket to the Garco site. But the current plans do not allow enough space for the likes of a Harris Teeter or Bi-Lo.

"We could do one of these smaller, maybe 20,000, 24,000-square-foot stores, like maybe a Trader Joe's or Earthfare or an Aldi, something like that, if they were interested," Johnson says. "We're still having a hard time getting any of the grocery stores to be interested in Park Circle."

11. Cleanup in progress

Asbestos, while useful for its durability and flame resistance, was eventually discovered to cause cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Because of the Garco site's industrial history, the Beach Company has sunk more than a decade of work into environmental cleanup efforts, which have included removing hundreds of tons of contaminated soil to a special landfill, testing abandoned drums full of chemicals, and installing vapor mitigation barriers to prevent an underground plume of trichloroethylene from contaminating the drinking water supply.

Johnson says the company is still working with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to ensure the site is safe.

"We've actually got more in clean-up dollars in that project than we do in buying the land to start with because it's just got to be done right," Johnson says. "It's just been a really slow process because nobody's ever done this around here before."


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