REALTOR Advocacy Success Story: The Starlight Motor Inn

The Starlight Motor Inn opened in 1961 and remains a landmark to this day. As the first modular-built motel in the South, it was an affordable and accessible option for those visiting our region.

The Starlight has stood through the complex and storied history of our region. The Inn has been a constant through the Civil Rights Era, Hurricane Hugo, the Naval Base closure and in 2020 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This building had a front row seat to the history of North Charleston and will play a vital role in the reimagining of the city going forward.

Ham Morrison, principle of the project shared: “This was a very challenging project. The site was on the city’s (North Charleston) condemned list and it wasn’t an easy argument to change that.”

“Even after explaining that we saved the Big Bertha building on King Street, they were still apprehensive to give us an opportunity to save the property – they were tired of the complaints and fires, and liabilities coming from the site. Understandable.”

“When we dug into the history and learned that the motel was the first modular built motel in the nation – now we had the city’s attention.” 

“So, history really did save the two buildings. Getting them placed on the National Register of Historic Places helped the city realize the significance and allow us to pull the permits and go to work.  And the project numbers would not work without the help of historic tax credits and abandoned building credits. We did the same thing on Big Bertha (1056 King Street). That project would not have worked without the credits.”

Nestled along the upcoming Lowcountry Rapid Transit (LCRT), Rivers Corridor, the area has been rezoned to accommodate for transit-oriented development. The planned build-out includes shops, restaurants and green space to help preserve the community’s character as Rivers Avenue evolves. This project is proof that cities and towns can grow and develop to remain viable AND we can protect treasures like The Starlight Inn at the same time.

“We also set up the project to be owned by a qualified opportunity fund. So, we have a mix of capital gain investment and regular after-tax cash investment. The Opportunity Zone component helps attract patient money. As you know, investors get to defer gains and have their investment grow tax free on a 10-year hold.” Added Morrison.

The Starlight Inn has taken advantage of several REALTOR® policy initiatives—the Inn is located in an Opportunity Zone, a REALTOR® priority championed by Sen. Tim Scott. The business has also benefitted from Historic Tax Credits which help not only protect the property through preservation but creates an incentive to do so as Historic Tax Credits are NAR and SCR priorities at their respective levels of government. On the local level, CTAR worked with the City of North Charleston to rezone Rivers Corridor to transit-oriented development zoning, supporting future investment and ensuring smart growth of the area. The Starlight Inn’s utilization of these REALTOR® advocacy initiatives will preserve and protect this treasure for generations to come.

And with a throwback neighborhood bar and a pool, The Starlight Inn will be the hippest place in North Charleston once again! Click here to view a plan for the Starlight Inn’s campus.

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