The windows of the long-vacant General Asbestos and Rubber Co. plant are no longer boarded up — a sign of the ongoing revitalization of the historic Park Circle landmark.
Construction crews removed the worn wood from the windows, allowing wind to pass through unobstructed ahead of window installation. Floor-to-ceiling columns stand tall throughout the first floor of the former factory. Remediation workers are scrubbing the asbestos from the building.
The Garco plant sits wedged between Virginia and O’Hear avenues in North Charleston. It once produced asbestos textile products for numerous applications, such as home-building materials, fire-proof capes and the soles of astronauts’ space shoes. The industrial operation was a major employer and central to the surrounding mill village for most of the 1900s until operations shuttered in the 1980s.
The building and land sat untouched for several decades after, exchanging hands and undergoing numerous redevelopment concepts. None of the plans for the Garco factory stuck, until now.
William Cogswell of Wecco Development and Jay Weaver of Weaver Capital Partners — investors who also helped to redevelop the historic Cigar Factory on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston — are revamping the Garco plant and some of the surrounding land.
The developers and city officials have said they want to transform the vacant building and adjacent empty lot into a bustling area filled with residents and employees.
Revitalization of the 86,000-square-foot building, combined with new construction on the site, will serve as an extension of the East Montague retail district, project planners said.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of this juxtaposition between the new and the old,” Weaver said. “We didn’t want to create just another suburban office park. We really wanted to create a sense of place that blends in well with what the city of North Charleston is doing in their downtown.”
The co-developers, operating as Garco Mill Partners, plan to retain the Garco plant’s historic elements while modernizing the building for office tenants. They expect the project to cost around $90 million.
Renovations are funded through a mix of federal and state historic tax credits, state mill tax credits, bank financing and private investment.
Extensive asbestos remediation has been ongoing over the past few years. Costs increased when more asbestos removal was required than had been anticipated.
“When we got into this project, we knew it’d be a possibility, and we did find more,” Weaver said. “We’re probably going above and beyond. I think we’re being ultra-careful, and it’s just not something we want to mess around with. … We think we’ve done a really good job of making sure we’ve remediated it properly.”
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control oversees the remediation work performed by Charleston-based DECO at the Garco site. The process is almost finished, allowing construction and interior work to begin.
The Garco mill project has secured two tenants so far: a nearly 30,000-square-foot food hall on the ground floor, which will have up to 18 food and beverage tenants, and a 30,000-square-foot coworking space run by Serendipity Labs.
Site prep work also is underway on the grassy lot next to the Garco plant. The adjacent field will eventually house two new commercial buildings.
Garco Mill Partners plans to invest $20 million into the first, a 150,000-square-foot commercial building.
Chemical manufacturer Ingevity plans to occupy 110,000 square feet of the building for its new global headquarters. The firm will invest an additional $5 million to upfit its portion. Ingevity plans to maintain its existing North Charleston operations — a manufacturing facility and an office building — once its moves into the new space.
The development group also plans to build a 50,000-square foot building on the land. Construction is contingent on tenant confirmations. Weaver said a deal is expected at the end of February.
The developers said they have no preference on the type of tenants moving into the three buildings.
“It’s so well-located,” Weaver said of the site. “We’re so close to 526, and we’re so close to some great amenities in downtown North Charleston that I think we’ll see a bunch of different sectors. That’s our hope.”
The renovated Garco mill is expected to open in the first quarter of 2020, followed by the new office building next door, which is set to open for Ingevity in the second quarter of 2020.
The timeline for the third office building is unknown. A city park is also in the works for the site.
Developers became interested in revamping the empty Garco factory about three decades after the mill shut its doors.
The Beach Co. bought the 40-acre tract out of federal bankruptcy court in 2002 with plans to redevelop it. The firm led extensive environmental remediation on the brownfield site, including removing old piping, demolishing buildings and cleaning up chemicals and asbestos.
Numerous development plans were attempted by companies and the city over the years, some of which came to fruition and some of which faltered.
Some new construction did occur in the years following the recession under The Beach Co. ownership, including Adams Outdoor Advertising’s headquarters in 2008 and The Factory at Garco apartments in 2015. Most of the lot remain untouched until recently.
The city bought some of the land and the Garco building from The Beach Co. in 2013 with plans to redevelop it into community space and a theater, but plans proved too costly. This eventually led Garco Mill Partners to buy several acres of land and the Garco building from the city.
Weaver said Garco Mill Partners also wants to buy the lot sitting catty-corner to the Garco mill. The land was set aside for Palmetto Brewery but the deal fell through when the brewery decided to stay in its longtime location in downtown Charleston.
Weaver and Cogswell, along with another partner based in Atlanta, also are planning to redevelop some historic buildings on the former Navy Base in North Charleston. They bought Storehouse 7, Storehouse 10, Storehouse 11 and the Power House building.
Weaver said the development team is working on the restoration plan for them
“Garco is far enough along now … We just didn’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Weaver said. “Now we’re going to start focusing on that project.”