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[Charleston] Civic Center is too small

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Charleston Civic Center: Time for expansion?

Notes --

1. The Charleston Civic Center opened in January 1959. It cost $2.5 million and contained what is now the Grand Hall convention area and the Little Theater. It was financed through various 'general obligation tax bonds' that were issued over a 6-year period beginning in 1953.

2. In 1964, a $1.5 million addition project added more seating to the Grand Hall, another parking lot, and an ice rink. This was financed through the sale of revenue bonds.

3. In 1978, voters in the city of Charleston approved of a $10 million 'general obligation bond sale' to construct a 13,000 seat coliseum. This was matched with a $10 million federal grant. The renovation and expansion was completed in 1980 at a cost of $20 million. The 13,000-seat coliseum was constructed.

4. In 1998, $9 million was spent to renovate the 36,000 sq. ft. Grand Hall -- receiving new ceilings, painting and lighting treatments. The ice rink was also removed, adding space to the exhibit hall. This was financed through revenue bonds -- still being paid from the coal severance and hotel-motel tax. It should be paid off in 2024.

5. The last renovation occured between 2004 and 2006, when $250,000 was spent to renovate the Little Theater. Half of the cost was paid from the capital improvement fund from the Arena, the other half from a grant by the state's Division of Culture and History.

6. Expansion will be difficult since it is landlocked. A river runs to the west, and it is bounded by the street grid. It is looking into purchasing the Beni Kedem Shrine Temple and Fifth Quarter properties located next to the Civic Center.

Article information: "Charleston Civic Center: Time for expansion?, by Matthew Thompson, Daily Mail [Charleston], Wednesday May 02, 2007"

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Study of civic center options OK'd

Charleston Daily Mail, June 19, 2007

The Charleston City Council approved a $60,000 contract Monday to a team of consultants to decide whether it makes sense to expand or replace the Charleston Civic Center. The seven-part feasibility study will take approximately three months to complete.

Expansion of the current facility might be difficult because the center is landlocked. The city has been looking into the purchase of Beni Kedem and Fifth Quarter, but the property might not be for sale. Other sites include the underused city parking structure at the Greyhound bus terminal, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, and other nearby properties. If a new hotel is built with ballroom and meeting space, the center might not need expanding; four developers have approached the city for an upscale hotel near the civic center.

The site of the former hotel at Kanawha Blvd. and the Elk River is so far the best location for a new civic center, but the owners are not willing to sell.

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Beni Kedem stalemate stalls Civic Center expansion study

By Jim Balow, Charleston Gazette, October 19, 2007

The Charleston Civic Center could use a new ballroom and more meeting rooms, according to a consultant. The obvious place to expand is across from Civic Center Drive, currently occupied by a Beni Kedem Temple and Fifth Quarter restaurant. But purchase negotiations between the city and Beni Kedem officials have stalled, and city officials have put a hold on any further work by the consultants they hired in June to study the feasibility of expanding and/or building new convention facilities. Beni Kedem owns both the temple and the restaurant.

In the first phase of the $60,000 contract, Conventions, Sports & Leisure International and the DLR Group studied the local market to see what new facilities, if any, the city needs. That work is done, and it reported that the city needs a 17,000 to 20,000 sq. ft. ballroom and at least 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space to be competitive. The report also suggested upgrading the appearance and aesthetics of the Civic Center, and addressing issues with the kitchen, which opens directly into North Hall. When consultants were touring the Civic Center, which dates back to 1958, comments were made regarding the strange configuration. That was a result of expansion over the years.

In the second, optional, phase of their contract, the consultants would look at specific sites to see where the new facilities might be built. That phase is currently on hold.

Currently, the temple has a dwindling membership and have excess room. The appraisals from Beni Kedem places the property at just under $5 million, to which the city is unwilling to pay. The city has stated eminent domain might be a possibility, but as a last resort.

It's not the city's only time. In a recent case that went to court, a jury awarded a Charleston woman $591,000 for a small lot on Washington Street near the Clay Center after the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority acquired it through eminent domain. The price was nearly 62% more than a panel previously determined the site was worth.

Much of downtown Charleston, including several towers and the Charleston Town Center and hotels, was built through urban renewal and eminent domain.

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