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Chicora Life Center To Breathe Life Into North Charleston Community
3/11/2015 4:16:59 PM

Jeremy Blackburn, Chicora Life Center Management Rep.
By Barney Blakeney

The Chicora Life Center is set to welcome its first tenants next month when the former Charleston Naval Hospital will culminate a revitalization process that reflects a transformation evident throughout the area.

Out with the old and in with the new. Construction and economic development are redefining the metropolitan Charleston area and the former Charleston Naval Hospital on Rivers Avenue is an example of change that will provide advantages for many residents.

The former navy hospital which sits on approximately 23 acres between Rivers and Spruill avenues in North Charleston was completed in 1972. For over 20 years the 12-story building served as the major medical facility for the area’s military community. After the Charleston Navy Yard closed in the mid-1990s, the hospital and former 204-bed navy barracks that also was located on the property were vacated around 2003.

Government Services Agency sold the property to the City of North Charleston in 2013. The city sold the property to Chicora Life Center LLC a year later. The new owners are investing about $11 million to renovate the buildings and grounds to accommodate an array of social services agencies, said owners’ representative Jeremy Blackburn.

The hospital’s approximately 4,000 square feet of space is being readapted to house Charleston County government’s coroner’s office, Dept. of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS), Department of Mental Health, Vital Records office and the Tri-County Intergroup Office (Alcoholics Anonymous).

Fetter Health Care Network as well as S.C. DHEC also will have facilities in the building in the initial phase of occupancy, Blackburn says. Additional government, social service oriented business and non-profits have signed letters of intent, he added.

As more resources are offered, Blackburn envisions the facility becoming a one stop shop that will allow agencies to more interactively co-ordinate their services. Unprecedented in the Lowcountry, the facility will enable agencies to serve clients with a variety of needs under the same roof eliminating a lot of travel and from place to place.

One of the tallest buildings in the area, it offers unparalleled vistas of both the Ashley and Cooper rivers. The developers want to create an environment where people will want to work, Blackburn said. Ultimately it will house 800-900 employees. He sees it as a resource in other aspects as well.

There will be amenities for employees - a 200-seat auditorium where agencies can share information and ideas, a total of approximately 1,200 parking spaces for its secured employee only parking lot and free parking for visitors. And there will be an employee only daycare and exercise facilities.

But the building also will offer resources to its surrounding community. A food court and rooftop park and garden will be open to everyone. Neighborhood residents and visitors also will have access to a children’s play area. The former barracks will be transformed into a shelter for the homeless.

The owners hope the Chicora Life Center will spur development of the former Shipwatch Square property across from it on Rivers Avenue and increase business activity with hundreds of employees that in turn will fuel further business development translating into jobs and improved quality of life for residents.

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