Charleston School of Law files paperwork to become nonprofit, signs lease

by Ashley Heffernan

The Charleston School of Law filed an application with the American Bar Association last week to become a nonprofit, according to President Ed Bell.

Several months ago, the school sent a notice to the association saying that it intended to file for nonprofit status. The required materials — including long-range planning documents, financial statements and details on how the school will be governed as a nonprofit — were submitted on Friday.

Ed Bell

Ed Bell

The ABA’s Accreditation Committee will review the application, and Bell said he expects a decision early next year after a site visit and inspection.

“I predict our application will be welcomed and received well,” Bell said.

In October, Bell paid an undisclosed sum to become one of three co-owners of the school, along with Robert Carr and George Kosko. If the ABA approves the status change, Bell said Carr and Kosko will leave the school.

“The final transfer (of ownership) would not be effective until approval by the ABA,” Bell said. “The way we’re getting approval is through the not-for-profit process.”

Seven-year lease

The Charleston School of Law also now has a multiyear lease for 53,934 square feet of space at 385 Meeting St. in downtown Charleston, commonly referred to as the BellSouth building.

The school has leased a small portion of the building’s third floor for the past 11 years. Now it will occupy the entire second and third floors and use 150 parking spots in the nearby Charleston Visitor Center garage. The value of the seven-year lease is $13.5 million, according to David Ingle, a senior broker with NAI Avant who represented the school in the transaction.

“It’s one of the biggest single-tenant deals that’s been done in downtown Charleston in a long time. No question,” Ingle said.

The landlord, Eddie Buck Jr. of 385 Meeting Street LLC, agreed to discount the price in exchange for the school’s paying to upgrade the interior, including new electrical work, an improved heating and air conditioning system and additional walls.

“The fact that the law school had been in the building for a long time obviously helped us,” Ingle said. “With what Ed Bell has done with the law school — really turned it around — the landlord was anxious to have us as a tenant there.”

The school now has classroom and office space at 385 Meeting St., a law library at 81 Mary St. and administrative space at 392-394 Meeting St. It also owns a 1.06-acre lot at 431 Meeting St., at the corner of Woolfe Street.

Building a new campus

The school is looking for about 1.5 acres in downtown Charleston to buy and build a new campus on, Bell said. If a suitable lot isn’t found, Bell said he’ll build at 431 Meeting St.

The school’s previous owners had a similar plan. Preliminary architectural renderings for a new building were created in February 2013 by Stubbs Muldrow Herin Architects. That project never materialized.

“I don’t think these plans would suit us now, but it does show that the concept can be built on that property,” Bell said. “So if we don’t find a piece of property, we have property we can build us a law school on.”

He estimates the school will need 75,000 to 100,000 square feet and will likely need to raise $100 million or more to build the campus.

“A year ago, people said the law school couldn’t survive, and look at where we are now,” Bell said. “We have to look beyond our nose to figure things out. If we don’t develop it now, 10 years from now we’re going to be stuck. We’re going to be in trouble. It has to be done right.”

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Ashley Heffernan

Staff Writer
Ashley Heffernan covers residential real estate, higher education, health care, hospitality, tourism, retail, financial services and the city of North Charleston for the Charleston Regional Business Journal. Reach her at 843-849-3144 or via email.