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City catalyst: EDGE project moving forward

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

The construction of the Charleston EDGE building could be part of the redevelopment efforts on the North end of Capitol Street, a recommendation of the Imagine Charleston downtown plan.

City Manager David Molgaard said it “could really serve as a catalytic project.”

“We’ve done a great job over the last 20, 25 years with Capitol Street from Washington Street to the river. It’s the first place you take a visitor when you bring them to Charleston,” Molgaard said. “But, by the time you get past the Daniel Boone, there’s just a lot of vacant lots.”

The EDGE — Early Dynamic Guided Engagement — project focuses on attracting young talent to the city and providing them with affordable downtown housing. Sponsors could subsidize rents at the facility for their employees while they participate in a three-year community leadership program.

Molgaard said the idea is to get young people to come up with a high-impact project they would implement over the course of that time.

“You’re not only living downtown, but you’re living downtown with a purpose,” Molgaard said. “You’re making things happen, and you’re contributing in a way that isn’t available right now in any organized fashion at least. There’s a value to that.”

The project, which has a grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation for design and cost estimates, outlines new construction for the housing complex on Donnally and Capitol streets.

The building would contain 35 units — seven of which could be two-bedroom apartments — along with program and meeting space, a fitness area and an amenity deck that sits atop ground-level parking.

It would be within walking distance of many of the city’s anchors, including the Capitol Market, Appalachian Power Park, the levee and the Civic Center. It’s also two blocks away from some of the city’s popular restaurants and nightlife.

Not counting land costs, the project’s development costs are estimated to be $10.4 million. Rents would have to be more than $1,300 per month.

“When you add utilities, renters’ insurance, sewer and garbage you’re looking at number of around $1,730 a month,” Molgaard said.

But, Molgaard said that’s all the more reason for the city to “buy down” or have sponsors that would subsidize some of those costs.

“It might be doable for the middle-aged attorney or doctor in this market, but people around here aren’t conditioned to those type of rents,” Molgaard said.

That also proves to be challenging when it comes to developing the building, Molgaard said. ZMM’s analysis showed Charleston’s land costs are high. Buildings like the one conceptualized appraise lower than their construction costs, “so you’re already upside-down when you’re building one of these things.”

At a presentation of the project’s latest plans, some Generation Charleston members who aren’t from the Charleston area weren’t phased by a $1,300 rent, Molgaard said. Those who were from the area were looking for lower rents around $800 or $900, “which is what we expected,” Molgaard said.

The next phase of the project includes approaching potential sponsors that could be businesses, individuals or foundations looking to bring young talent to the city.

Recruiters like the “stickiness” of the idea, Molgaard said. “[They like the idea of] attracting people and finding something to keep them here, instead of having this be their first job and then they’re off to the big city after they get a little experience,” Molgaard said.

“If you find a way to ground them in the community, it’s more likely that those young people will stay here.”

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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