The Charleston Branch of the NAACP has not been asked to leave its Columbus Street office that was recently placed on the rental market.
Branch president Dot Scott said that during a recent call with Columbia attorney F.A. Johnson, a representative of PASTORS Inc., the building’s owner, she was asked how much the civil rights group would pay to continue renting the first-floor office suite at 81 Columbus St.
“They want us to make an offer, but I’d like to talk to the board members” of PASTORS and its chairman, the Rev. Julius Barnes, she said. “He has not called me.”
Scott said PASTORS, a community development organization that specializes in creating affordable housing, has not told her the building is on the rental market. A local newspaper reporter informed her in December that Coldwell Bankers Commercial has the property listed on its website.
The NAACP rents the office at Columbus and Hanover streets for $900 a month. The listing said, “This property is currently under renovation and restoration and should be ready for move in by February 2022.” The owners are seeking about $2,400 a month to rent the 1,236-square-foot office on a three-year lease that would increase 3% annually. Scott said renovations have not begun.
In a prepared statement, Barnes said the NAACP moved in the office July 1, 2013, but it didn’t begin to pay rent until January 2015 under a lease that expired December 2017. “Since then, they’ve remained on a month-to-month basis at the same rate,” the statement read.
“Therefore, the NAACP has not had a rent increase in six years,” according to the statement. “PASTORS has worked in good faith in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a new lease with the NAACP for its existing space or for a small space at a similar price. While we recognize the critically important work performed by the NAACP, we must cover our costs and can no longer operate under the previous financial terms.”
Scott said the NAACP paid $650 a month when the organization initially moved in and about six years ago the rent rose to $900. “Do you think we’d ignore a rent increase suggestion?” she asked. “If (Barnes) wanted to change the lease he should have sent some kind of document. We have not once gotten a request for a rent increase that we didn’t follow through on immediately.”
Meanwhile, since 2000 ownership of the two-story building at Hanover and Columbus streets has changed hands three times.
In 2000, the City of Charleston sold the property for $1 to PASTORS, according to Charleston County property records. The next transaction shows the property in 2014 being sold by PASTORS to Peninsula Economic Development Consortium Inc. (PEDC) for $585,000, according to county records. PEDC is a nonprofit group PASTORS created in 2013 to serve as its title holding corporation, according to Barnes’ statement.
In November, Charleston City Council voted to allow PASTORS to assume two PEDC loans from the city on the property totaling $395,960, according to a city document. The arrangement would enable PASTORS to pay off the current bank debt and then borrow $225,000 for the building’s renovation. When the work is completed, the building will have an appraised value of $930,000, according to the document.
“As a good steward of its resources, PASTORS is initiating much needed capital improvements and repairs at 81 Columbus such as replacing all windows and HVAC units, and repairing exterior siding,” the statement read. “To effectuate this work, PASTORS increased rents in this commercial space to align with the market and to cover these necessary improvements.”
When PASTORS conveyed the property to its affiliate PEDC, the Rev. Joseph Darby was PASTORS’ board chairman and NAACP’s first-vice president. Darby was not available for comment at press time Friday.