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superjack

Get It Together, Columbia!

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I have been a Columbia resident for several years now, and I have become increasingly frustrated about downtown development. This city could be so much better. For one thing, city council and planners can't seem to decide the direction of the city; for example, are we trying to go the direction of Savannah or Charlotte? Main St, Five Points, or the Vista? Bombers or not? There seems to be a push for more downtown residents, but disagreement on how to develop available space. We've completed the convention center, but wait... no hotel!? Just an empty lot facing an eyesore -- you know that lot with the Heart of Cola hotel on it. It just gives the impression that city planning, particularly downtown, is extremely haphazard. I mean, one defintion of insanity could be how many times we redo Main St expecting different results. I've been following some of the other posts on this site for some time, and you all have interesting perspectives. One that particularly struck me was the post about power lines. Why are all these hideous lines still running up and down Assembly St? Why not bury those before redoing Main St again? I love Columbia and the midlands, and I long to take visiting friends and family downtown and say, "Look at how cool our city is!" I long to drive downtown on a Saturday, park my car, and have all kinds of things to keep me busy the rest of the day -- for example, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, sports, fine arts, etc., all within WALKING DISTANCE. And I don't think we'll be successful treating the Vista and Main St as seperate entities. We need piece together the seemingly disconnected parts of downtown. We need to really promote downtown living with specific goals in mind. For example, how many residents to we want living in the 12x12 blocks that constitute "downtown," and the 3-5x5-7 blocks that make up the city center. At the same time, we need to give people a reason to go downtown. I believe it's the heart of downtown that truly defines a city and gives it character. Columbia is getting better, but still has a long way to go. And this shouldn't take years. We need more projects going on simultaneously. We need a real incentive to get it done and get it done well. I'm only 27 years old, and I'm not interested in waiting 20 more years to see this stuff happen. I don't necessary care if Columbia becomes one of the next major cities (although that would be nice), I just want to see us do better with what we have. Otherwise, I may head for Charlotte in the next few years.

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Columbia could definitely become a major city, but I don't think it will reach Charlotte's size for many years or even decades. The city is making strides in the right direction, and anytime you start working on making your downtown a pedestrian-friendly place, you are absolutely going to reap the vibrancy and vitality which people will be drawn toward. :)

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Welcome to the forum superjack! We appreciate your comments :)

I agree with you completely. Columbia has made a great deal of progress but there doe need to be more going on. I want to see more development of all kinds. As for residential development, I want to see more development that pushes the limits of the Vista's zoning.

One good project is the rennovation of the Barringer Building on Main St. into apartments.

barringer.jpg

I would like to see more projects on this scale. These things don't have to be towers, but they need to be along the lines of the Pavilion Apts on Richalnd or Calhoun at the Huger/Elmwood/126 intersection.

Columbia stil has a lot of room to grow, so I think that in the olng term it will be a great place. I am aslo somewhat impatient about this... but that deosn't really do any good :) I know that if I end up in Columbia I will make every effort to live downtown. It would be really cool to live in the Barringer building B)

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I also understand that the building across from the state house at the corner of Gervais and Main, next to the new First Citizens Building, is going to be made into condos or apartments. An announcement should be made shortly.

One disadvantage that all SC cities has is the restrictive annexation laws. I think we need to put pressure on the legislature to change this. More city population means more money available for city projects. I agree about Assembly Street. It, and Elmwood need to be made into grand boulevards, as does Huger Street. It does take time, however.

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The one with the Andy Thomas Show in it? That is the only way I can identify that one ;) It would be awsome to have a view of the State House from your apartment.

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While I appreciate superjack's comments and incite, I do have problems with people complaining about things and not contributing to the problem solving. It's easy to complain about problems and identify them, but it's alot harder to change them. I'll use a couple of examples that I hear all the time, like: Why doesn't Columbia have _____. Why doesn't South Carolina have ____. Why is such and such better in ___state or ___city? Well, my general response to these questions is: "That's a great idea, when are you starting ____ group or ____ project?" Every one of us is capable of running for public office, starting an organization or changing something that we don't like. If it costs money, anyone is able to start a non-profit organization and raise money to tackle a problem or join an existing organization and make an impact. Just my 2 cents.

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I went to USC in the early 90s. While I agree that the City of Columbia has botched some things (most notably the CCI property redevelopment) and has had too many irons in the fire at once, I was truly impressed with all that has gone on in the city on a recent visit. The Congaree Vista has really come around. When I was at USC, the city was trying to prime the pump with some big project and infrastructure. But it really only attracted the businesses and residents in the past five years or so. These things take time. I think Columbia is on the right path.

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While I think Charleston and Greenville have more vibrant downtowns currently (both of those cities deserve praise for their efforts), I think the potential of Columbia's downtown is really greater over the long run (I am thinking 10-20 years) if the city makes the right moves. You have the state's flagship university downtown as well as state government. The university's research campus is very promising for downtown if it all pans out (a big "if" right now granted). Also, Columbia's downtown grid (say from Elmwood to Whaley and from the Congaree to Harden) is a really large urban grid that no other SC city has. If the growth comes, the potential for a wonderful urban environment is great. You also have the riverfront (significantly under-realized currently). I would suspect that Columbia has the largest office component of any of SC's downtowns. You also have some great historic landmarks in downtown Columbia (State House, Trinity Episcopal, First Pres, First Baptist, Barringer Building, Palmetto Building, the mills, etc.), and that helps make a downtown feel like an authentic place. Unlike Charleston, Columbia's downtown revitalization is not overly dependent on tourism. Unlike Greenville, Columbia's major employment centers of now and the future seem more likely to be located in the downtown area. For example, USC is planning its research campus in downtown Columbia while Clemson is unfortunately putting ICAR in an essentially suburban setting (though thankfully within the city limits).

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BTW Spartan, that's a nice picture of the Barringer Building that you posted!

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Thanks, but all credit should go to the good folks over at http://www.capitolplaces.com - I should have credited them to start with.

While I think Charleston and Greenville have more vibrant downtowns currently (both of those cities deserve praise for their efforts), I think the potential of Columbia's downtown is really greater over the long run (I am thinking 10-20 years) if the city makes the right moves. You have the state's flagship university downtown as well as state government. The university's research campus is very promising for downtown if it all pans out (a big "if" right now granted). Also, Columbia's downtown grid (say from Elmwood to Whaley and from the Congaree to Harden) is a really large urban grid that no other SC city has. If the growth comes, the potential for a wonderful urban environment is great. You also have the riverfront (significantly under-realized currently). I would suspect that Columbia has the largest office component of any of SC's downtowns. You also have some great historic landmarks in downtown Columbia (State House, Trinity Episcopal, First Pres, First Baptist, Barringer Building, Palmetto Building, the mills, etc.), and that helps make a downtown feel like an authentic place. Unlike Charleston, Columbia's downtown revitalization is not overly dependent on tourism. Unlike Greenville, Columbia's major employment centers of now and the future seem more likely to be located in the downtown area. For example, USC is planning its research campus in downtown Columbia while Clemson is unfortunately putting ICAR in an essentially suburban setting (though thankfully within the city limits).

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I tend to agree with you. Columbia has the best chance of achieving true urbanity sooner, though Charleston could be a close second if it had more office type places in its core.

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I think the comments about Columbia having the elements in place for a successful and thriving downtown are right on. It seems that the missing, or perhaps weakest, element is the desire on the part of elected officials and citizens to fully embrace the idea of "urban" design and life.

For instance, Main Street has a lot of potential, but one of the first priorities should be to eliminate ALL surface parking lots in the downtown core. Surface lots are a suburban design idea that merely function as deadzones in urban areas. If memory serves, there is a small surface lot adjacent to the Southtrust building, what a waste of valuable space in the heart of downtown Columbia. I realize that these lots are mainly private property and the city can't force owners to convert to other uses, but a little gentle persuasion would be helpful.

If you want to see a parking lot, just head out to your local stripmall. Conversely, if you'd like to have an interesting, engaging, exciting, pedestrian experience, you should be able to head to your local downtown.

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I agree with you about Main Street. Columbia has yet to figure out what to do with Main Street. It does a new streetscaping deal every decade, but that alone is not doing the job. I think the city's focus on the Congaree Vista and other areas has made it hard for Main Street to get the attention from potential businesses and residents. The redevelopment efforts may be spread to thin. For example, it seems like Greenville focused on Main Street and then moved on to West End. They focused on small bites at I time according to my understanding. And then Columbia has yet more redevelopment projects coming down the pipe with the relocation of the State Hospital on Bull Street. And it has yet to do anything with the CCI property. I think it is just overloaded.

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I agree with you about Main Street. Columbia has yet to figure out what to do with Main Street. It does a new streetscaping deal every decade, but that alone is not doing the job. I think the city's focus on the Congaree Vista and other areas has made it hard for Main Street to get the attention from potential businesses and residents. The redevelopment efforts may be spread to thin. For example, it seems like Greenville focused on Main Street and then moved on to West End. They focused on small bites at I time according to my understanding. And then Columbia has yet more redevelopment projects coming down the pipe with the relocation of the State Hospital on Bull Street. And it has yet to do anything with the CCI property. I think it is just overloaded.

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Concentrating on one area can be a good thing. Consider my hometown's redevelopment of King Street...they are concentrating on burying lines and adding better lighting. By concentrating on that area, more attention to detail is given and you have a quality product that lasts for years and years.

It really depends on a city's economic status, though. Jacksonville has been amazing in its redevelopment in prepping for the Super Bowl. Many ugly areas of the city in 5 years have been transformed to superb urban areas.

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They way you attract businesses to downtown is to provide trax incentives for redevelopment. They need to make it easy to change zoning laws to allow for themodification of existing structures to allow for street level retail and restaurants. I think the way to do it is by getting a popular restaurant like the Olive Garden or Outback to move in on Main St. You could use this as fuel to encourage other restaurants and shops to locate on Main St too.

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They way you attract businesses to downtown is to provide trax incentives for redevelopment. They need to make it easy to change zoning laws to allow for themodification of existing structures to allow for street level retail and restaurants. I think the way to do it is by getting a popular restaurant like the Olive Garden or Outback to move in on Main St. You could use this as fuel to encourage other restaurants and shops to locate on Main St too.

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I completely disagree with you on the idea of attracting an Olive Garden or Outback-type restaurant to downtown. Folks who live in the suburbs have those kinds of restaurants at their local shopping strips; why would they drive into downtown for the same experience they can have close to home?

Tax incentives can be a very powerful tool, but they should be directed to help foster intriguing, locally-owned businesses, not to subsidize cookie cutter corporate development. In the case of Columbia, I agree that another huge issue is all of the blank walls on Main Street. Every office building should be required to have street front retail on its ground floor, and not just bank branches and dry cleaners either.

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Forget the people in the suburbs- what about the people living in and around downtown? You ahve Cayce and West Columbia and then the City of Columbia, which is mostly non-suburban. There is a significan't market available for downtown that doesn't have access to some suburban style restaurant. My point is that a restaurant like that should go there, not necessarily one of those. Take Sticky Fingers for example. They have a location in suburban Greenville off of Woodruff Rd, and a location downtown on Main St. Why can't Columbia have the same thing or a similar situation?

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I agree with you about Main Street. Columbia has yet to figure out what to do with Main Street. It does a new streetscaping deal every decade, but that alone is not doing the job. I think the city's focus on the Congaree Vista and other areas has made it hard for Main Street to get the attention from potential businesses and residents. The redevelopment efforts may be spread to thin. For example, it seems like Greenville focused on Main Street and then moved on to West End. They focused on small bites at I time according to my understanding. And then Columbia has yet more redevelopment projects coming down the pipe with the relocation of the State Hospital on Bull Street. And it has yet to do anything with the CCI property. I think it is just overloaded.

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^^ I agree with every word, especially the part in bold. Columbia suffers from spreading itself too thin. Just tonight a friend of mine that works in Washington D.C. was telling me about a meeting he had with three Cola city councilmen. All they did was jockey for position over which project (Harden or Assembly St. streetscaping) should have first priority for funding from the Feds. Rather than decide among themselves (Mayor Bob was absent, BTW) which project should have the highest priority and present a united front, they made fools of themselves and left a bad impression.

They way you attract businesses to downtown is to provide trax incentives for redevelopment. They need to make it easy to change zoning laws to allow for themodification of existing structures to allow for street level retail and restaurants. I think the way to do it is by getting a popular restaurant like the Olive Garden or Outback to move in on Main St. You could use this as fuel to encourage other restaurants and shops to locate on Main St too.

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I agree with the tax incentives and zoning laws, but instaed of Olive Garden or Outback, how about KEEPING the local flavor of local owned businesses like the Sherlock Holmes Pub, underneath the Palmetto building!!!!

I completely disagree with you on the idea of attracting an Olive Garden or Outback-type restaurant to downtown.  Folks who live in the suburbs have those kinds of restaurants at their local shopping strips; why would they drive into downtown for the same experience they can have close to home?

Tax incentives can be a very powerful tool, but they should be directed to help foster intriguing, locally-owned businesses, not to subsidize cookie cutter corporate development.  In the case of Columbia, I agree that another huge issue is all of the blank walls on Main Street.  Every office building should be required to have street front retail on its ground floor, and not just bank branches and dry cleaners either.

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^^ Right on!!!

BTW, like the initiator of this thread, I use to be 27 and living in Cola. I got tired of waiting on all the city's promises to come true, and left. I'm 41 now, and I'm still waiting on something to go up at CCI. Yes there's been progress, but must it be so sssslllllloooowwww? No one is guiding the ship, so it is drifting.

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Forget the people in the suburbs- what about the people living in and around downtown? You ahve Cayce and West Columbia and then the City of Columbia, which is mostly non-suburban. There is a significan't market available for downtown that doesn't have access to some suburban style restaurant. My point is that a restaurant like that should go there, not necessarily one of those. Take Sticky Fingers for example. They have a location in suburban Greenville off of Woodruff Rd, and a location downtown on Main St. Why can't Columbia have the same thing or a similar situation?

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I don't know what Sticky Fingers is, but I can say that putting a suburban-style franchise restaurant on Main Street in Columbia is not a good way to create a unique identity for downtown. Instead of Olive Garden, why not a Garibaldi's? Or you could go to Villa Tronco, an historical Columbia restaurant. Or another creative local restaurant like Motor Supply?

The Vista is filled with good, locally-owned restaurants and pubs, and folks flock there. I'm sure that office workers that like Olive Garden would frequent an Olive Garden restaurant at lunch, but to what end for the city? There will always be people who like the predictable (and in mind horribly dull and mediocre) food that can be found at a corporate restaurant, and a franchise would be a natural addition to a thriving downtown that has a mature business district, but not helpful in building a unique destination for Columbia.

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They way you attract businesses to downtown is to provide trax incentives for redevelopment. They need to make it easy to change zoning laws to allow for themodification of existing structures to allow for street level retail and restaurants. I think the way to do it is by getting a popular restaurant like the Olive Garden or Outback to move in on Main St. You could use this as fuel to encourage other restaurants and shops to locate on Main St too.

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An interesting side note; both Friday's and Applebees tried to open locations in the Vista and were told to get lost by the development corp. Chain restaurants are strongly discouraged in that part of town.

The McDonalds on Huger and Gervais slipped in there on a technicality, and the original design was actually a "traditional" looking McDonalds, and gas station and a convenience store combo. Luckily, the develpment corp held their ground and the McDonalds was forced to redesign into what it looks like today. I've heard that the design has been replicated in other urban areas in the south, but I'm not sure exactly where. Talk about avoiding a disaster!

I do agree on the tax incentives for redevopment. The city can't offer property tax abatements, but i'm not so sure if that would be a viable/smart solution anyway.

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I don't know what Sticky Fingers is, but I can say that putting a suburban-style franchise restaurant on Main Street in Columbia is not a good way to create a unique identity for downtown.  Instead of Olive Garden, why not a Garibaldi's?  Or you could go to Villa Tronco, an historical Columbia restaurant. Or another creative local restaurant like Motor Supply?

The Vista is filled with good, locally-owned restaurants and pubs, and folks flock there.  I'm sure that office workers that like Olive Garden would frequent an Olive Garden restaurant at lunch, but to what end for the city?  There will always be people who like the predictable (and in mind horribly dull and mediocre) food that can be found at a corporate restaurant, and a franchise would be a natural addition to a thriving downtown that has a mature business district, but not helpful in building a unique destination for Columbia.

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Sticky Fingers is a small Mount Pleaseant, SC based chain of BBQ Restaurants. They are fairly popular. They have locations in many downtown, or town center type areas as well as in suburban areas. One of my favorite locations is in downtown Greenville.

The Vista has many chains: Longhorn, Mellow Mushroom, McDonalds, Subway, Meritage, Carolina Wings, Marble Slab, Publix... I'm sure there are more. My point is not that it should be dominated by chains, but that a single chain could be used to spur more local growth. The advantage of chains is that they usually have a pre-existing public knowledge, so you know what you are getting, which can increase traffic. Less of a mystery. The Vista has way more locally owned restaurants than chains. Main St could be the same way.

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Sticky Fingers is a small Mount Pleaseant, SC based chain of BBQ Restaurants. They are fairly popular. They have locations in many downtown, or town center type areas as well as in suburban areas. One of my favorite locations is in downtown Greenville.

The Vista has many chains: Longhorn, Mellow Mushroom, McDonalds, Subway, Meritage, Carolina Wings, Marble Slab, Publix... I'm sure there are more. My point is not that it should be dominated by chains, but that a single chain could be used to spur more local growth. The advantage of chains is that they usually have a pre-existing public knowledge, so you know what you are getting, which can increase traffic. Less of a mystery. The Vista has way more locally owned restaurants than chains. Main St could be the same way.

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Good point. I do try to stay away from chains, though. I didn't know Meritage was a chain, though. I thought they just had 1 other location. Look at California Dreaming, too. It's a chain now, but the original one is in Columbia.

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Well, I consider restaurants with more than one location a chain, albiet a small one. Meritage's location in Charleston qualifies in my book. I realize that could be debated though.

You can add Sandy's, Beezer's, and Moe's Southwestern Grill to the list too.

I beilive it is possible to achieve a balance and still have local charm, flavor, ambiance, or whatever you like to call it.

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True, I think certain 'chain' restaurants that focus on unique, carefully planned urban locations would fit in quite nicely. I think that the chains that everybody seems to be weary of are the typical suburban mall establishments which are thrown up with little regard to the area around it.

Come to think of it, I think that may be my biggest beef with the 'mall style' chains. If they made an effort to meld in with the environment and perhaps even improve an existing structure to create a unique storefront, then I think I would be all for it. The Publix is a great example of this, and in turn they get my business. If, say a Cheesecake Factory came to Gervais or Main St. and took over an old building and created a neat multi-level restaurant, I'd go there. If they came in and leveled said building and put up one of their orange monstrosities, then forget it. I have seen some chains of all sizes make very interesting and unique urban locations, and that's cool by me.

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I personally don't see anything "wrong" with Columbia. It has its problems, but then what city doesn't? It has all sorts of untapped potential considering the region it's in (state's central location, access to I-77, 26, 20, & 95, 3.5 hrs to ATL, 1.5 to Gville, 1.5 to CLT, 2hrs to Charleston, 2.5 to MB, major state university & research campus DT, two thriving entertainment districts, etc... I think that these types of perks have just been recently taken into serious consideration by the people of the region and its leaders. I haven't recognized a time in Columbia since I lived there until present where so much activity has been going on DT (ie Meridian Bldg., Firt Citizens, Carolina reaserch campus, convention center & hotel, USC "Vista" baseball stadium, Ed Venture, 3 Rivers Park, Palmetto Trail, etc...). There are several cities out there Columbia's size and larger that can't even boast that much activity. It's been recognized by several, "nobody likes the list unless there city is on it best places list" (#28 in 2004, #17 in 2003, #5 in jobs 2003 forbes magazine, #21 in 2004 expansion management magazine, 5th "most creative city" 2004, etc...) 10 years ago the city wasn't even considered for such list. Now at least according to the individuals who publish them Columbia has been recognized several times! Creating a quality takes time through trial and error, and if it's taking too long then there are always other options. I for instance don't live in Columbia, b/c I grew up there and I wanted to experience what else the world has to offer. I may never move back but I will always be proud to represent it and acknowledge what it has accomplished! People ask me where I'm from I proudly say Columbia! I still think it's funny that some insist that it is not growing or will not grow eventhough statistical evidence (census) suggest otherwise! But that's me, I'm biased I've done a good bit of traveling in my 28 years (US/Canada & Europe) and have seen that Columbia has just as much too offer as some larger cities and in some cases more! With the national trend now of moving/ living in large to mid-sized college towns (Austin, Madison, RDU, Boulder, etc...) because of there high quality of life, I would think that the city will only continue to grow? But that's just me. ;)

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