Charleston to Lease Josiah Smith House

March 16, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveMarc Knapp
Citizen Reporter

Charleston City Council voted unanimously last month to approve the leasing of the three floors of the Josiah Smith Tennent House.

The move was a no-brainer as the city owns the building, the floors were vacant and the tenants – the Trident Urban League and the S.C. Association of Community Development Corporations – were worthy nonprofit organizations.

The move brings to mind the expensive failure of the city and its previous occupant to realize the building’s promise.

Charleston gave the building to nonprofit Elpis Inc. nearly two decades ago. It was to provide the anchor for the development for social services, for the East Side community in particular.

Elpis received a number of grants from the city, largely, if not exclusively, HUD money. As well, it received considerable private donations, helped by high-profile individuals who sat on the Elpis and associate boards.

Some $5 million was received by Elpis over the years in grants, donations and bank funding. This had allowed the renovation of the building but the social services to be provided were missing or barely apparent.

Residents of the East Side, when questioned about the services, just shrugged their shoulders or worse.

It’s not unreasonable to expect the city to want to sell the Josiah Smith Tennent House. It is a fine historical structure and appears to be in good shape.

But it has been the recipient of more than $1 million in HUD funds. This complicates any possible sale because if it is sold for commercial purposes, all HUD funding may have to be repaid.

The combined rents of the tenants amount to $5,800 a month, or about $70,000 a year. This compares with the city’s notional purchase price of the building of $1.4 million.

While the city took over the building to satisfy a bank debt it’s believed that the rent barely covers the national interest.

Marc Knapp is a contractor specializing in heavy underground utilities and the owner of Charleston Site Utilities.