Beaufort's old City Hall was full of details just waiting to be discovered after remodeling projects through the years transformed -- and covered up -- interesting features of the century-old building.
The new tenants, Lowcountry Produce Market and Cafe, took more time and about twice as much money as expected to renovate the building at 302 Carteret St. because of several exciting surprises along the way, co-owner Noel Garrett said.
Originally planned for October, the store's opening finally arrived Wednesday.
"It took a lot longer than we thought because we all fell in love with the building," Garrett said of the renovation, which ended up costing $200,000.
The specialty grocery store has local fruits and vegetables, meats, seafood, cheese and prepared foods, including signature Lowcountry Produce products.
The expected renovations included removing drywall and a drop ceiling full of air ducts to reveal an atrium-like space with ceiling-high windows on one side and open arches on the other. A second-floor balcony was opened on one side of the building.
"The big old federal buildings and banks just lend themselves to markets because they are just such big, open spaces," Garrett said.
One of the surprises was the detailed brown concrete floor, worn down by years of foot traffic, that was found underneath two layers of vinyl tile. Instead of laying a wood floor as originally planned, the contractor, Meridian Co., replicated the original flooring throughout the first story. Meridian is renting office space in a second-floor alcove.
Several hidden rooms, some large enough to stand up in, were discovered when people started climbing up roof-access ladders. Garrett said they're still trying to figure out what to do with the rooms. For now, one holds a water heater, and the others are being used for temporary storage.
Throughout the years, the old City Hall also served as a post office and a customs house. It even contained a local FBI office, according to Jeff Dowling of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Accreditation Unit. Dowling said that when he moved to Beaufort in 1967, his father was one of five agents managing a six-county area from the office.
Lowcountry Produce has a 10-year lease with the city, with an option to buy after three years. It will pay the city about $44,000 the first year, with the rent increasing incrementally each year, according to the lease.
In other business:
Construction began in October and was expected to be wrapped up in late January. However, weather and the discovery of more damage to the wall has changed that, Owens said.
More barriers had to be added to protect the wall from tree roots, and construction crews discovered more damage from roots on the east wall, Owens said.
Repairs currently stand in stark contrast to original sections of the 1871 wall, but that should change, Owens said. The mortar will darken as it dries, and a white film over the new bricks will be removed by power-washer.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.