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Donnally Street eyed for 'Charleston Edge' project

Chip Ellis
The upper end of Capitol Street could become a bit more lively at night, and more pedestrian-friendly, if the city builds Charleston Edge -- a multiuse facility with affordable housing for young professionals -- on this parking lot at the corner of Donnally Street. The historic Mattie V. Lee home abuts the site at rear.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston Edge project, stalled after a private developer snapped up its preferred location, is back on track with a new site on Capitol Street, City Manager David Molgaard said Monday.

City officials opened four proposals Monday afternoon from consulting firms interested in designing conceptual plans for what Molgaard hopes would be a multistory, multiuse building for the Edge project.

Molgaard publicly unveiled his idea for affordable housing for young professionals, coupled with a three-year community leadership program, nearly a year ago at a meeting sponsored by the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and its New Charleston Partners program.

At the time, he hoped to use the site of the former Holley and Worthy hotels on Quarrier Street, owned by the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority. But two private developers later said they were interested in the site and one, still unidentified, is negotiating a deal with CURA.

Now Molgaard is eyeing another CURA-owned site -- a small parking lot at the northeast corner of Capitol and Donnally streets, beside the parking garage the state of West Virginia built for its employees at the Diamond building.

"We have said we'll proceed in phases," Molgaard said. "First we'll determine the size of the building -- how many units, how much parking it will support and costs. We want to know how much it will cost [to build] and to operate the facility.

"We would like to have onsite parking -- really, parking on the ground floor -- with building on and around the parking. There are several models for that downtown -- the Fifth Third bank building, Bowles Rice," he said.

"We would also like it to be done conducive to pedestrian traffic. Mixed-use with retail or commercial on the first floor would be ideal. But I feel it's important to have at least one parking space per unit residential."

The small lot size -- 17,150 square feet, or about 0.4 acres -- and the parking requirement may limit the overall size of the project.

"I think somewhere around 30 residential units would be desirable with the way we've developed the program -- a three-year program with people coming into the program every year." That's down from the 40 to 60 apartments he envisioned on Quarrier Street.

Records show CURA paid $289,200 to assemble the site in 1990 and '91, CURA Director Jim Edwards said. Molgaard is hoping the agency will donate the property to the city.

As at Quarrier Street, rents would be subsidized by sponsorships from participating employers, he said.

"That's part of what this [consultant's] analysis would deliver -- a cost structure about the kind of sponsorships we get.

"We would expect participants to pay an affordable rent. Residents would be in the arc of their careers, recruited by area businesses. We know people graduating from college are burdened with unprecedented loan debt."

Molgaard said he assembled a steering committee of young professionals, many of them members of the Generation Charleston group of the Charleston Area Alliance.

It could take a month or more to select a consulting firm, he said. He wouldn't speculate on the estimated budget or overall timeline.

A still-to-be-named committee will choose among the four firms that submitted qualification statements Friday. Three are from Charleston -- Silling Architects Planners, Thrasher, ZMM Architects and Engineers -- plus AU Associates Inc., of Lexington, Ky.

The initial phase was funded with a $40,000 grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, Molgaard said.

"We're hoping to select a firm that will be with us for a while." Financing and finding sponsors could take up to a year, he said.

"It would be very nice to be contemplating a construction contract at this time next year," Molgaard said, adding: "That's very optimistic."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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