A retirement community. A senior health clinic. A grocery store. A library. A zen garden. According to a mock-up map released today by a company that wants to buy the former Navy hospital and Shipwatch Square properties in North Charleston, these things and more are on their way as part of a planned development district near the city’s southern end.

Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC is poised to buy about 40 acres from the City of North Charleston for $9.2 million, snatching up properties where Mayor Keith Summey and City Council have been trying to attract businesses for years. At that price, the sale would cover the city’s $6.2 million worth of investments to date in buying both properties and demolishing the Shipwatch Square shopping center. The purchase will have to be approved by City Council at a Dec. 20 meeting, but in a press conference this morning at City Hall, Summey expressed confidence that the council would approve the sale.

Within 30 days, Summey said, Chicora Gardens will present a master plan for a planned development district to the city’s Planning and Zoning Department. So far, the centerpiece of the plan appears to be a senior health clinic inside the existing 10-story Navy hospital building at 3600 Rivers Ave., along with senior apartments nearby. But there are still no definitive plans for a grocery store at Shipwatch Square, which used to be home to the last Winn-Dixie in South Carolina until it shut its doors in 2005.

A grocery store would be a boon for residents on the southern end of North Charleston, much of which is classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a food desert. Last year, the USDA found that 19,500 people in southern North Charleston and the Neck had limited access to groceries and fresh vegetables. In low-income neighborhoods like Chicora-Cherokee, where many residents do not have reliable transportation, the lack of a grocery store within a mile can present a barrier to nutrition. When families buy their food from convenience stores and fast food restaurants, they spend more money and eat less healthily. (As if to add insult to injury, the Town of Mt. Pleasant also announced this morning that the North Carolina-based gourmet grocery Southern Season is planning to open a new location on Coleman Boulevard.)

“Our premium goal that we’ve always had for Shipwatch is a grocery store,” Summey said. “Anything above that is cream for us … but getting somebody to invest in it just to build a grocery store was almost impossible.” Summey has long said the city was in negotiations with numerous grocery companies, but he said this morning he would hand off those contacts to Chicora Gardens Holdings LLC.

Assuming the sale goes through, the city’s influence on the future of Shipwatch Square and the Navy hospital will largely be through its zoning department. But Summey also said today that part of the proceeds of the $9.2 million sale would go into a reserve fund to entice a grocery store to move in. He said that if a grocery moves into the location and loses money within its first three years, the city will reimburse the company for up to $1 million in losses, although “we don’t think they’re going to need it.”

In initial plans, about 50 percent of the land in the two parcels is dedicated to public parks. Other ideas mentioned by Summey and shown in the conceptual map include restaurants, a bank, a sculpture garden, and a senior fitness center.

As a limited liability company, Chicora Gardens Holdings doesn’t have to reveal its members, but records on the S.C. Secretary of State website show they filed as an LLC on Nov. 1, two weeks after the city bought the former Navy hospital property from the federal government for $2 million.

Rumors circulated earlier in the week that either Donald Trump or his son, Donald Trump Jr., was going to invest in the properties. But the Trumps’ vice president of marketing denied the rumor in an e-mail to the City Paper, writing, “The Trump Organization has not and is not planning to purchase the former Navy Hospital in North Charleston.”

Rick Brownyard, the LLC’s lawyer, said the group’s membership is “evolving” and will likely be revealed within the next few months.

Chicora Gardens Plan – Dec. 14, 2012