In a not too distant past, the tallest building in Columbia’s skyline was the State Capitol. Not anymore. Projects funded by investments from the state, universities, developers, corporations and local communities are transforming the hardscape and landscape of the Midlands. The power of imagination, along with true grit, has united people with a common goal of realizing a great transformation to our fair city.
David Lockwood, senior vice president of Colliers International, says, “Businesses and people are attracted to Columbia for its quality of life, climate and easy access to lakes, rivers, mountains and the ocean. They are encouraged by the rebirth of Main Street merchants, IT research and related industries in the area and convenient city residential living options.”
Municipal, county and state officials agree on one thing: it’s our time to shine, in reference to growth, development and a commitment to new and existing business. The City of Columbia’s Strategic Plan Overview proclaims, “We are Columbia … together we will build a world class city.” To support this vision, the city’s goals are to increase the city’s public safety ranking among similarly sized cities by increasing its ability to provide high-quality public safety services; to strengthen business growth and investment in the community through job creation, business location and expansion, redevelopment and tourism; to invest in the overall infrastructure necessary to grow our city; and to improve internal and external communication.
Signs indicate that these goals are being achieved, and when it comes to development activity, the burgeoning growth is sprawling. It’s not limited to one area; it’s everywhere. Here’s a sampling of what’s going on around town.
One by one they come …
Downtown Columbia is getting a major facelift from investors taking advantage of the redevelopment opportunities that abound along Main Street. “Although new construction is evident, the Columbia market will continue to seek adaptive reuses of obsolete, Class C buildings and space – older buildings that are in need of extensive renovation,” David says. “Architecturally, these buildings are the least desirable and building infrastructure and technology is outdated. As a result, Class C buildings have the lowest rental rates, take the longest time to lease, and are often targeted as re-development opportunities.”
In a model joint public/private effort, Columbia leveraged roughly $400,000 in Community Development Block Grants into more than $6 million in private investment to fund façade improvements to restore a number of historic and commercial buildings on Main Street.
“There’s no doubt that something special is happening downtown,” says Columbia City Mayor Steve Benjamin. “New businesses like Mast General Store and restaurants such as Cowboy’s Brazilian Steakhouse are lighting up storefronts like never before. New events like our first Famously Hot New Year’s Celebration are crowding Main Street sidewalks for the first time in a generation.”
Columbia City Council approved an incentive program to restore and improve building façades within a targeted redevelopment area. The Commercial Façade Improvement Program offers five-year forgivable loans ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. The applicant pays 20 percent; the remaining 80 percent is paid by the city’s Department of Community Development.
City Center Partnership has been instrumental in downtown Columbia’s revitalization. The non-profit organization represents the businesses in the state’s only managed Business Improvement District – located within the boundaries of Gervais, Elmwood, Assembly and Marion streets. Its involvement led Columbia City Council to designate the 36-block area of the BID as the first target area for the Façade Improvement Program.
“A number of renovation projects have recently been completed or are currently under way within the BID. Many of the projects received matching grant funds from last year’s Façade Improvement Program,” says Heather Spires, director of retail recruitment for City Center Partnership. Those projects include:
- building The Palms on Main, a 54-unit luxury apartment building at the corner of Main and Lady;
- restoration of the Brennan Building at 1210-1214 Main Street, former home of the Capitol Café;
- renovation of 1546 Main St. by new tenants, Something Special Florist;
- renovation of 1556 Main St. at the corner of Main and Taylor;
- renovation of 1607 Main St. by the Nickelodeon Theatre;
- renovation of 1614 Main St., formerly Main & Taylor Shoe Store;
- renovation of 1627 Main St. by new tenants, Paradise Ice;
- renovation of 1631 Main St.;
- façade work at 1734 Main St.;
- façade work at the Vista Center on Assembly Street; and
- façade work on Villa Tronco.
- Businesses that have opened recently or have announced plans to open soon include:
- The Lunch Box #2 at 1801 Main St. (April 2012)
- M Fresh at Washington Street (April 2012)
- Crepes & Croissants at 1456 Sumter St. (May 2012)
- Something Special Florist at 1546 Main St. (May 2012)
- Cola’s Restaurant at 1215 Assembly St. (June 2012)
- Chelsea’s Restaurant at 1734 Main St. (July 2012)
- Circa 1332 at 1332 Main St. (September 2012)
- The Oak Table at 1221 Main St. (anticipated opening in fall 2012)
- Nickelodeon Theatre at 1607 Main St. (anticipated opening in fall 2012)
“Combine these with projects like the Tapps Art Center, new downtown residential developments like the Lofts at Lourie’s and a potential Palmetto Center project that could bring some 800 students to Main Street, and the future looks bright indeed,” says Mayor Benjamin.
One private company that sees Columbia’s potential ability to sustain downtown living is Capitol Places. “The downtown apartment market consistently outperforms the overall Columbia metropolitan market,” says owner Tom Prioreschi, “largely because people want to live where they can walk to amenities such as the arts, restaurants and nightlife. Occupancy in our buildings has run above 95 percent for the past two years.”
Attention to detail and respect for original architectural designs are important aspects of all Capitol Places properties. “Bringing back some of Columbia’s greatest historical landmarks has been very fulfilling,” Tom says. “These were unused or underutilized buildings that we brought back to life.” Capitol Places’ properties include:
- The Berry’s Building at 1217 Taylor St., nominated for the National Register of Historic Places and featuring 20 apartments with a lobby entrance facing Taylor Street;
- Barringer Building at 1338 Main St., also known as “South Carolina’s First High Rise;”
- Lofts at Lourie’s at 1601 Main St., above Mast General Store;
- The Kress Building at 1502 Main St., listed on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring 31 apartments with a courtyard entrance facing Main Street; and
- Main Street Lofts at 1644 Main St., loft-style apartments in the former Tapps Building.
Design firms making a difference
Two local design firms – Garvin Design and Studio 2LR – have had a profound impact on Columbia’s makeover. Some of Garvin Design’s more notable projects have been 701 Whaley, Mast General Store, Columbia Innovation Center, the University of South Carolina’s Honors College Residence Hall and the Granby and Olympia Mill apartments. Scott Garvin, president, says, “One focus of our work has been in revitalization of old buildings, restoring them to functional purpose again. We enjoy the process of giving life back to the old bones especially when they have been empty for years. There’s an instant impact to the surrounding area.”
Restorations to Olympia and Granby Mills and 701 Whaley have restored life to the Olympia Mill community. The building that houses the Columbia Innovation Center once was an old unattractive warehouse on Assembly; now it has a strong street presence and is a center for vibrant growing technology based companies.
Garvin Design renovated Patterson Hall, a women’s residence hall at U.S.C., and is currently in the design phase of renovating the 1950s-era buildings along Women’s Quad. “These renovations create state of the art living environments while enhancing the image of the facilities,” Scott says. The Honors College Residence Hall replaced the old honeycombs at the corner of Main and Blossom, giving a fresh face to that intersection.
Garvin Design also designed and renovated its own space at Gervais and Lincoln and attracted Starbucks as the anchor for the renovation to the building, transforming pedestrian activity along Lincoln Street in the mornings.
“Columbia has a lot of growth potential,” Scott says, “and a number of privately-financed projects over the next few years will continue to strengthen the core activity. U.S.C. will continue to expand and grow, and the pieces of the urban fabric that are necessary to connect the growth area will finally be addressed, such as Assembly Street.”
Studio 2LR is a boutique architectural and interior design firm that focuses on downtown development projects and urban infill areas. Its portfolio consists of a variety of commercial and retail projects, as well as some residential, both across the country and right here in South Carolina.
Adluh Flour has entrusted Studio 2LR to rehabilitate the early 1900s plant, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for commercial use. Studio 2LR and Dial, Dunlap & Edwards worked with Adluh to determine appropriate uses for the two-story property – each level features 9,000 square feet of potential commercial or retail space. “We have created a package for the developer showing how the property could accommodate a restaurant on the first floor with offices on the second floor,” says Tripp Riley, AIA, vice president of Studio 2LR and founder of the firm along with Wes Lyles and Gretchen Lambert. “There are many potential uses for this building given its location as well as the historic interior aesthetic of exposed brick walls and sturdy wood trusses.”
Another notable property that has transcended time is the 54-unit building on the corner of Main and Lady streets that has housed the Downtowner Hotel, the Governor’s House and the Roadway Inn over the years. Today, it’s known as The Palms on Main, an apartment building showcasing a modern, sleek South Beach influence. “It’s exciting to be a part of a successful development project completed on Main Street,” Tripp says.
Studio 2LR’s strength is its ability to successfully rehab an innocuous abandoned building and give it a contemporary remodel, as it did for OCCO at 1218 Pulaski St. “Why demolish a building when it can be renovated into something functional and attractive?” Tripp says.
Studio 2LR’s efforts to add meeting space and vantage points along the river have come about as a result of a strategic alliance with municipal and educational entities. “EdVenture had several concepts for the new Terrace Building at Columbia Canal Front and its access to the river,” Tripp says. “We worked with Grimball-Cotterill & Associates Landscape Architects and developed a usable space there with an expansive open feel. Grimball-Cotterill designed the proposed walkways, garden and patio, and we designed the building, rooftop terrace and cantilevered steel canopy overlooking the canal. The canopy is visually dramatic and functional, providing protection from direct sunlight.”
The Vista Greenway project
On July 29, Columbia celebrated the opening of Phase I of the Vista Greenway Project, brought about through the efforts of the City of Columbia, the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Parks and Recreation, the Vista Guild, The Columbia Development Corporation and Palmetto Conservation Foundation. “The Vista Greenway is a key initiative in the city’s efforts to be both bicycle and walking friendly,” says Natalie Britt, executive director of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation. “Several other bike and pedestrian projects are planned so that people can safely bike or walk to the Greenway from different communities within the city.”
Phase I of the Greenway connects the Vista at Lincoln and Lady streets to Finlay Park at Taylor Street along a 100-year-old railroad bed. Phase II will be a half-mile section connecting Gadsden and Blanding streets to Elmwood Avenue. The true definition of a nature trail in an urban setting, it will be perfect for hiking, biking and jogging and will offer a pedestrian transportation corridor for folks living in the Elmwood and Earlewood neighborhoods. “Our goal is to open Phase II in the next 12 to 18 months,” she says.
Where to park?
The City of Columbia has added more than 1,200 new parking spaces to downtown via two new parking garages – one on the corner of Washington and Lincoln streets and the other on Sumter and Taylor streets. It’s an exciting time for John Spade, director of parking services for the City of Columbia, who finds there is never a dull moment as he addresses the city’s construction and parking needs.
The Lincoln Street Garage has 675 parking spaces, two electric car charging pods and public access from Washington Street. It was designed by the LPA Group and Quackenbush Architects & Planners. The six-story City Center Garage on Sumter and Taylor streets, designed by LS3P, opened in August and features 532 parking spaces and 5,406 square feet of retail space. “We believe that this is the crown jewel of garages in Columbia. It’s the most attractive garage inside and out and is the only one with a bay window, located on the Taylor Street side,” John says. The city envisions that the retail space will be used for service, retail or medical use. “An interesting feature to this garage is that a 9 foot by 16 foot ceramic tile artscape will be added.” The City Center Garage also features a beautified walkway to Main Street.
Busting out all over
Construction is going on all around, over and through the U.S.C. campus. The big construction pit behind the Carolina Coliseum will be the site for the Darla Moore School of Business, expected to be completed by December 2013. Jeff Lamberson, director of Facilities Design and Construction, says, “The new Moore School is designed to incorporate a multitude of green building features to reach the goal of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum, the highest level of certification.” Site work uses best management practices to reduce environmental impacts from storm water and heat island effect.
In addition to the LEED Platinum goal, the university – working with the Department of Energy – is designing the facility to be “net zero,” which means it will generate the energy it consumes. A green roof with solar photo-voltaic panels will contribute to those reductions, as well as provide added insulation. The interior spaces of the building will be constructed with recycled, regional materials that are free of volatile chemicals to create a healthy indoor environment. “The building also will feature high-efficiency water fixtures to further reduce the building’s impact on the natural environment,” Jeff says.
In a partnership between the Darla Moore School of Business and the School of Music, a 500-seat lecture hall will double as a performance hall, designed with adjustable acoustical features to accommodate the differing needs of a lecture or a musical performance. “Acoustical banners in the ceiling that absorb sound can be exposed to maximize speech intelligibility for lectures and other speaking events,” Jeff says. “They also can retract, leaving hard sound reflecting surfaces on the walls to provide a higher reverberation and a full, rich sound for unamplified music performance. This allows the hall to function acoustically as multiple-sized venues, depending on the needs of each event.”
Thomas Quasney is associate vice president for facilities with the Division of Finance and Planning at U.S.C. Responsible for all projects for all U.S.C. campuses, he is also in charge of redesigning the current Moore School of Business for the U.S. Department of Justice. “The scope of that project is to renovate the interior to support their mission and bring the facility to current building and safety code requirements,” he explains.
College student life
“University housing at U.S.C. has been a leader on campus in many sustainability issues, including green buildings,” says Dr. Gene Luna, associate vice president for student affairs and academic support. “We are committed to ensuring that each new or renovated residence hall is LEED-certified or the equivalent rating of another green building rating system. Patterson Hall was renovated this past year, and we’re waiting on our LEED-certification as we speak. Next summer, we’ll begin the renovation of the Women’s Quad residences (Wade Hampton, Sims and McClintock) with a goal of LEED Silver.” The university also expects to expand the 20-house Greek Village by five to six additional chapter houses.
“In addition to student housing,” says Gene, “we’ll soon begin design on a new student health center with a goal of LEED Platinum for that project. My thinking is that a health care facility should be the healthiest building on campus.” Green buildings not only conserve resources, they provide a healthier interior space for employees and visitors. Plans for this new structure will replace the current health center on its present site.
To infinity and beyond
The South Carolina State Museum has launched a $23 million expansion and renovation project. Windows to New Worlds will transform the museum’s capacity to engage, educate and inspire visitors with a 55-foot digital dome planetarium and theater – the largest in the state – and an immersive 4-D theater. Stunning multimedia images, digital sound and laser light shows are just a few of the capabilities of the digital dome planetarium and theater. The 4-D theater will enhance traditional 3-D films with fourth-dimensional sensations such as blasts of air, water sprays and seat vibrations.
The eyepiece-to-projector technology in the new state-of-the-art observatory will certainly impress visitors. A giant, historic Alvan Clark telescope will allow views of the sky by individuals or, using the projector, by groups of up to 125 people at once in the planetarium. Additionally, every schoolchild in South Carolina can take virtual field trips via the Internet. “The educational possibilities are as limitless as space,” says Tom Falvey, director of education at the museum.
The project will add approximately 22,655 square feet to the museum’s home at the historic Columbia Mill building located on the Congaree River. Additionally, 47,500 square feet of the facility will be renovated, making room for a new front entrance and lobby, larger museum store, expanded catering capabilities and increased meeting and professional development facilities.
“These enhancements are directly tied to the state’s educational emphasis in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” says William Calloway, executive director of the museum. “In addition to standards-based programs, our expanded outreach capacity will be particularly valuable for schools that do not have the resources to travel to Columbia.”
The $23 million project is being funded by public and private sources, and the museum estimates that improvements will help attract 75,000 additional visitors and $1.6 million in additional revenue annually, essentially doubling its earned income.
Across town at the market
The highly-anticipated Cross Hill Market is a 74,000-square-foot shopping center at the intersection of Crosshill and Devine streets. “It has been designed with a local flavor, creating a sense of warmth, intimacy and familiarity, which naturally fosters meaningful social interaction,” says Lyle Darnall, EDENS Managing Director. “The city has been a fantastic partner in this project and shares our enthusiasm for the change it is bringing to the neighborhood. We have designed the plaza areas to be intimate gathering spaces, which you’ll notice through the landscape, outdoor furniture, materials, lighting and signage.”
EDENS differentiates itself through its design choices like landscaping while maintaining a focus on sustainability. In partnership with the Gills Creek Watershed Association, EDENS is using high-efficiency equipment, including rain gardens and bio swales, above and beyond code requirements to help improve the quality of nearby Gills Creek. Additionally, the company is using a number of native and drought tolerant plant species to reduce irrigation and has used environmentally friendly materials throughout its construction.
Whole Foods, the anchor store at the location, is on schedule for a late fall opening. Lyle says that all of the other retailers should be open for the holidays, including American Roadside Burger, Taziki’s Mediterranean Grill, ULTA Beauty, Jamie Scott Fitness, Charleston Cooks, Hand & Stone Massage and M Boutique.
On Forest Drive, the old Columbia Athletic Club is getting a remodel as well. Trader Joe’s is expected to open there by the end of the year.
The arts communities have found a wonderful venue in 701 Whaley, and Richard Burts and Bob McConnell are discussing ways to develop a cross discipline, black box style performing arts space behind the 701 building where an old swimming pool and basketball gym used to be. Richard confirms that construction will begin in January with an expected completion date in the spring of 2014.
Another project the duo is working on is the restoration of a building Bob owns at 1200 Main Street. “We hope to restore the original façade of Columbia’s second skyscraper and turn the building into a multi-use building including high-end residential, office, hospitality and retail,” says Richard. Richard and Bob have an affinity and respect for historical preservation and restoration, so they are working with the city’s Historical Preservation Director, Historic Columbia and S.C. Archives and History to ensure that any construction measures will preserve the character of the old 1913 building. “We wouldn’t be involved in such an undertaking if we didn’t believe Columbia’s future is heading in the right direction.”