The Columbia Regional Visitors Center may soon be getting room to grow.
The Columbia Design/Development Review Commission approved a request at its Thursday meeting by the vistors center for new construction on a 40-foot long brick-and glass building at the southeast corner of Gervais and Lincoln streets to serve as the center’s new public face.
The Visitors Center, currently located inside the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, needs greater visibility and better public access, according to project plans.
Plans call for a 40-foot long brick-and-glass building – a small-scale mirroring of warehouses in the West Gervais Historic Commercial District – to span two of the 20 depot bays. Seating areas consisting of brick planters with attached wooden benches would bookend the building, which would feature a cubed glass entryway.
Bill Ellen, president and CEO of the Midlands Authority For Conventions, Sports & Tourism, told the design commission that the new location will help Columbia keep more of its approximately 4 million visitors a year overnight or longer if those visitors have easier access to information about area attractions.
“Columbia has really become a destination for visitors,” Ellen said. “This will give us an opportunity to get in front of them.”
The front edge of the building, oriented toward Lincoln Street, would be placed just beyond the depot’s supporting columns, according to a project evaluation sheet. The majority of the building would abut Longhorn Steakhouse, maintaining a pedestrian walkway and visibility.
The proposed building would be less than 11 feet in height with a flat roof, allowing all structural components of the depot to remain, according to the plans.
The evaluation sheet, submitted as part of a request for a certificate of design approval for new construction, noted that property and business owners in the Vista consulted by Columbia architects Garvin Design Group are supportive of the design.
David Sickinger of Garvin stressed the small dimensions of the building, expected to be around 750 square feet, and the fact that the seating areas would improve the aesthetic appearance of the area. Sickinger said the design has been through several iterations based on feedback the architect received from both the city of Columbia and the Vista Guild.
A motion to approve the design passed unanimously, with a condition that the glass cube entryway not be allowed to go dark at night during peak foot traffic hours in the Vista.
Ellen also told the commission that the Visitors Center would probably have extended nighttime hours during peak times and on weekends, with limited hours on Sunday.
“We will have to kind of play it a little by year,” Ellen said. “We’ve got a game plan.”