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Developer eyes CURA-owned city block

Lawrence Pierce
After advertising the site as for sale for six to eight months, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority has a possible buyer for the small city block at Dickinson, Lewis, Shrewsbury and Christopher streets. An unnamed party submitted a redevelopment proposal for the site Friday.
Courtesy photo
Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board members will hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider a developer's offer to buy a CURA-owned site near the Garnet Career Center.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board members will hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider a developer's offer to buy a CURA-owned site near the Garnet Career Center.In a related measure, CURA board members will consider a proposal to amend the Shrewsbury/Smith Street Urban Renewal Plan's land-use plan, to allow residential construction on the site -- a small city block bounded by Dickinson, Lewis, Shrewsbury and Christopher streets. The existing plan calls for office or commercial redevelopment there, CURA Director Jim Edwards said.CURA board members agreed to advertise the property for redevelopment earlier this month after a developer told Edwards the firm was interested in it. By law, CURA can't sell property without first advertising for development proposals.Edwards refused to identify the developer, citing the advice of his lawyer. The developer was the only responder by the deadline Friday afternoon.CURA bought the 0.69-acre site at least 20 years ago and tore down all structures that were on it, Edwards said. In recent years, it has served as a parking lot for the Garnet center.Over the years, CURA has accumulated several properties in and around downtown, but has not aggressively tried to market them. That changed after Edwards took over as director about a year ago."We've had all our properties surveyed, the most important ones appraised, and the main thing is we posted for-sale signs," he said. "The interest of the agency is to get the properties back into production, not to hold them indefinitely."Activity in real estate is picking up. Locally, we're getting a lot more inquiries. Now, how much of that is from an improving economy or from the 4- by 8-foot signs on all our properties is hard to say."The other thing we've done which is significant through the downtown planning process, we've asked the planning consultants to create development concepts for our four downtown properties," he said. "All are parking lots. It's kind of hard to visualize a development without a 3-D model."
Because of interest last year in the Holley/Worthy hotel site on Quarrier Street, the consultants developed a conceptual model for that property first, Edwards said.The other sites include the Dickinson/Shrewsbury block, the lot at Capitol and Smith streets, previously eyed by West Virginia State University, and a lot at Capitol and Donnally streets.By chance, the planners tackled the Dickinson/Shrewsbury block next. "It came in about four weeks ago," Edwards said. The unnamed developer saw the concept drawing and may have been encouraged by it, he said.The drawing shows a four-story L-shaped building occupying most of the site, with a green space at the corner of Shrewsbury and Christopher."This is next to The Block African-American historic district," Edwards said. The green area might provide space for interpretive signage for the district."Given where this is located, I don't think it's realistic for office or commercial use."
Adding residential use to the urban renewal plan would give developers more flexibility in their planning, Edwards said. He said his goal is to remove as many barriers to downtown redevelopment as possible.It's unclear, however, what the unnamed developer who submitted a proposal for the Dickinson/Shrewsbury block has in mind for the site. Edwards said that won't become public until board members review the proposal.The site has been appraised for about $440,000, he said. CURA spent roughly $500,000 to acquire the property and demolish buildings there.Reach Jim Balow at or 304-348-5102.
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