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Staats building loan approved

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

The Staats Hospital building continues to receive financial and community support in the weeks following its sale. Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board members granted in a closed session Wednesday a $230,000 loan to developer Bullock Properties, LLC, director Jim Edwards said.

The loan will be granted over the course of five years with payments of interest, Edwards said.

Supporters of the project filled CURA’s boardroom Wednesday to tell the board how much the long-vacant building’s rehabilitation would mean to the West Side. West Side Main Street Director Stephanie Johnson said she has received many comments from the community supporting the building’s redevelopment, as well.

“I believe that the revitalization of this property will truly be a catalyst for continued development on the West Side,” Johnson said.

Councilwoman at-large Mary Jean Davis praised the Bullock family, which has rehabilitated multiple buildings on the West Side over the years.

“We had investors over the past 13 years who looked at this building, and I’m thankful that some of them backed off, because I don’t know what they would have done with the building,” Davis said. “[The Bullocks] are invested in the West Side. You don’t have a lot of people step up to renovate a building who are actually living beside the building. They are invested in the West Side. They’re not going anyplace.”

Several organizations are contributing to the project. The Charleston Area Alliance last month voted to guarantee a $155,000 loan from First Bank of Charleston to Bullock Properties, which is redeveloping the historic West Side property. The Alliance also gave a $15,000 grant, and two $20,000 facade grants were given. The Bullocks contributed $80,000 toward the building’s purchase.

Commissioners also received updates on community gardens throughout the city. The East End Community and Veterans Garden’s 26 plots are fully leased, and four people are on the waiting list, organizer Sara Cowgill said.

Kasey Russell, an East End Community Garden organizer and at-large city councilwoman, told commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting veteran collaborators gave the garden about $4,000 when it was started in 2011. But, the organization Russell referred to as “Charleston Veterans” stopped contributing funds for garden projects such as fencing, she said.

“They had about $6,000 left, and that was from a grant that the Charleston Veterans acquired from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation about four years ago. Evidently the last $6,000 was embezzled, so the Charleston Veterans left Charleston and took the $6,000,” Russell said during the meeting.

Russell later changed her statement in a voice message to the Gazette after speaking with the former liaison between the garden and the veterans’ organization, Waylon Bryant.

“[Bryant] did say that — and I didn’t get the name of the group — he doesn’t think that the people like intentionally like took the money and ran,” Russell said.

Russell said the money “just got swallowed into the hole of a dying organization.”

“[Bryant] thinks that in that, you know, as they were, as they were going under, they spent all the money and didn’t really differentiate between any sources of the money. So that’s what happened. So no one, like, took the money and left town,” Russell said.

Bryant did not return calls for comment Wednesday, and Russell said “he works for a state agency now and can’t talk to the media.”

Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneurs, which operates gardens on the city’s West Side, is selling its produce at the East End Bazaar each Saturday, as well as to local restaurants, said Cullen Naumoff, of the Charleston Area Alliance.

SAGE also wants to expand its garden to include raised beds for children on the West Side, who are already helping its farmers. West Side community garden organizer Tom Toliver said he wants to make sure the neighborhood is taking part in the area’s projects.

“It’s a fantastic thing that’s going on,” Toliver said.

In other business, commissioners received a loan and grant application from Bob Hardy, of the housing organization Charleston Area Community Development Corporation, for the rehabilitation of properties, to pay for outstanding debts and the funding of an advocacy office and salaries. Hardy said the organization would repay the loan with rent collected on each property.

Chairman Jack Cavender said during the meeting that some of Hardy’s requests are not applicable under CURA’s loan policy.

“I can say that out of the loan, the $100,000 proceeds, rehab or something like, the payoff of liens and to repay the loan that you’ve made are inappropriate use of funds that we would not approve,” Cavender said.

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


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