The decision by Midlands mainstays Flooring by Cogdill and Cromer’s Peanuts to move out of their iconic but antiquated Huger Street headquarters represents an ongoing reshaping of Columbia’s downtown – and its inexorable move toward the water.
The 3.25-acre property and 43,350-square-foot retail and warehouse building at 1700 Huger Street has been listed with Colliers International for $5.45 million. Cogdill, founded in 1970, and Cromer’s, founded in 1935, each plan to open smaller stores in commercial and residential centers. The present location at the intersection of Huger and Laurel streets is difficult to get to by car and attracts no foot traffic, Cromer’s general manager Agata Chydzinski told The State, though she added that the peanut people would like to maintain a downtown presence.
The sale will continue a transformation of the area, a gateway to downtown off the I-126 curve. In 2014, Greenville developer Homes Urban, LLC, acquired 6.7 acres at the corner of Gervais and Huger streets and announced plans for Kline City Center, a $100 million, 25,000-square-foot multipurpose development that will feature as many as 350 apartments, a 140-room hotel, office and retail space, and a parking garage with up to 850 spaces. The development, on the site of the former Kline Iron and Steel Co. building, edges Columbia development closer to the Congaree River.
“We are going to be seeing more development coming along that river corridor,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corporation. “The river is an incredible resource for the community, but on the Columbia side, we’ve just never gotten there.”
There are several reasons for that, Delk said, including private ownership of prime property and a flood plain beyond the river bluff. “But the ability to take the area along Huger Street and convert it to higher and better uses and bring those uses closer to the river is just inevitable, and so here it comes,” he said.
As for the 1700 Huger property, identifiable for decades by the Cogdill Carpets sign out front, Delk sees two possibilities for its future: a sprucing up of the current building, or a complete redevelopment by investors attracted to its location.
“Values are going up, density is going up, so that is a really good piece of property,” Delk said.
Delk, in his current position for 20 years, has seen a wholesale transformation of the broader Vista area.
“I remember when the first acre in the Vista sold for 800,000, and that was an enormous amount of money,” he said. Only three years ago, the population of downtown – people living on Main Street and in the Vista – hovered around 1,200, he said. “Today it’s somewhere north of 5,000,” Delk said, noting that he’s also watched 15 restaurants and bars mushroom into 80 and a lone hotel – the Hampton Inn on Gervais – grow to eight.
While such explosive growth is, by and large, a good thing, corresponding rent increases and other repercussions do have ripple effects.
“It is harder for mom and pops to operate downtown,” as well as for “pioneer businesses” such as art studios, Delk said. “That is something the community needs to work on, ways to preserve that personable character of local businesses.”
To begin with, people need to support those businesses, Delk said, “and there should be regulatory ways to do it. … There is always that balance. As prices go up, it’s more attractive to the national chains.”
Attention must also be paid, Delk said, to infrastructure details, such as adding sidewalks and improving crosswalks in the Huger Street area.
“That is another big challenge that we must take on if we’re going to take advantage of all this development and make ourselves a truly great city. We have got to interconnect,” Delk said. “Huger Street is a great opportunity for development, and as a city, we need to get to that river. We need to take advantage of that amazing unspoiled resource.”