By C. Grant Jackson
Drive down Columbia’s Gervais Street in the Congaree Vista and you’ll find few vestiges of a time 30 years ago when National Geographic Magazine named Gervais one of the ugliest streets in America. Then the street was cut by multiple railroad tracks and drivers would often get sandwiched between trains as they loaded and unloaded freight at trackside warehouses.
Today’s Vista is a booming arts and entertainment district that is one of the hottest residential and retail hubs in the region.
Three of those remaining warehouses, which formerly housed the City Market Antiques Mall, have been transformed by Columbia architect Scott Garvin, Garvin Design Group, into a mixed-used complex housing two restaurants, a coffee shop, two apartments, a brew pub and venue space, and a planned wine bar. The City Market project (Garvin kept the former name for the collection of buildings) showcases the Vista’s transformation.
The Vista’s growth is being driven by the explosion of downtown residential development, both student and market-rate housing, said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., which assists with Vista development. Delk believes the next development wave, which the area is starting to see with projects like City Market, will be in retail.
“Now we have nearly 5,000 people living downtown today. I personally think we could be going to 8,000 to 10,000 people living downtown in the Vista and Main Street in just the next few years. That means we are going to need more restaurants, retail, more services to serve all of these people and the customers and the people who are in all the hotels,” Delk told a recent briefing on Vista growth.
Historic preservation efforts like the City Market have also been key, he said.
Total investment in the project is $9.5 million, including $1.5 million for the buildings and land. Of the total investment, $3 million came from the tenants. “Each of these restaurants invested a lot of their money in equipment and upfit,” Garvin said.
Garvin is one of five partners – three major and two minor – in the project. He is a major partner, serving basically as the development’s manager and handling all the leases. Hood Construction of Columbia did most of the shell work and site work and most of the upfits. Mark Hood is also one of the partners.
Twisted Spur Brewing, a West Coast Style brewer/restaurant in 705 Gervais, will be the fourth eatery in the complex, and is slated to open in just a couple of weeks. Chris Baldwin, a USC graduate who spent the last 15 years in Nevada and Colorado running microbreweries, was looking at property across Gervais Street when he noticed Garvin’s sign in front of 705 and contacted him.
Immediately behind Twisted Spur is 4,000 square feet that Garvin had originally targeted for office space. But during construction Garvin had a lot of requests for venue space, “so it’s like don’t argue with the market.” He can convert it to office space if he gets a tenant.
City Market took off quickly. “Two months into construction, we had leased 80% of it,” Garvin said. “As soon as we started tearing things down we had 15 restaurants show up.”
Greenville-based Grill Marks was the first restaurant to commit and to open. It occupies about 5,000 square feet in 711 Gervais St. Built in 1880, the building is the youngest of the three and at one time housed a railroad machine shop.
Garvin had anticipated having five apartments behind the restaurant, but when Grill Marks wanted 5,000 square feet instead of 3,000, Garvin was left with space for only two of the most unique apartments in the city. Floor boards in the two apartments were milled from 12-by-12 beams removed during renovation. “We tried to reuse everything that was here,” Garvin said.
Brick was reused in everything from walls hiding dumpsters to a walk-in beer cooler in Grill Marks. Much of that material came from opening up the pedestrian alley between 711 and 707 Gervais. Part of Garvin’s effort was to create walkable, open space. He also opened up the historic windows which had all been bricked in.
Grill Marks was followed by Newk’s Eatery at 707 Gervais St. A national chain, the Columbia restaurant is the group’s 100th and one of 20 corporately owned, Garvin said. Originally the building’s facade mirrored the one next door at 705 Gervais, the oldest and most historic structure on the site. Garvin said one of his biggest challenges was to recreate that façade. The original façade at 707 was pretty much gone. Using 705 as a guide, “we literally got a saw out and cut that form back into the wall. Then we put the bricks back together again.”
Immediately behind Newk’s, across a covered shared patio that Garvin created, is The Wired Goat Cafe, a Chapin-based coffee shop at 709 Gervais St. Originally a separate building, 709 was combined at some point with 707 and Garvin separated the two buildings again. The owners of the Wired Goat plan to open a wine bar in the basement.
The last owners knew the basement existed because of some drawings, Garvin said, but they had never seen the space. “They just assumed it was wet and gross and nasty.” An hour after closing on the property, Garvin and one of the other partners ventured into it.
“The basement was unbelievable, dry as a bone. ... So that was 2,000 square feet I didn’t know I had. You never find stuff like that. It usually goes the other way.”
Published in March 28, 2016, print issue.