When Columbia architecture firm Studio 2LR needed a new home, its search took it from the Vista location it had been renting to an up-and-coming neighborhood with distinctive charm that fit its budget.
2LR’s relocation to the North Main district, a growing business corridor north of Elmwood Avenue, signifies a new wave of development that some industry insiders envision cresting into the Next Big Thing.
“The new frontier is North Main,” Columbia City Councilman Sam Davis said. “You have to go north. Elmwood is not perceived as a dividing line any longer. It’s serving as a springboard.”
Davis joined Tripp Riley, 2LR vice president, and Frank Cason of Cason Development Group at a Society for Marketing Professional Services community forum Thursday at the Palmetto Club to discuss the factors driving North Main growth.
Cason Development Group oversaw the renovation of the War Mouth, a 2,400-square-foot gastropub with a signature cocktail menu which opened in an old garage at 1209 Franklin St. last December. The restaurant has forged a successful niche among a North Main demographic that skews younger with more disposable income than may be immediately obvious, Cason said.
“We wanted a cool, unique area,” he said. A similarly sized location would have cost “five or six times” as much in the Vista, Cason said, and the company was also intrigued by “the idea that we could be pioneers out there.”
North Main may not be unchartered territory much longer. Cason is in the early stages of developing a coffee/barber shop “around the corner” from the War Mouth, while 2LR, which moved into its 3,500-square-foot building at 2428 Main St. two and a half months ago, is working on mixed-use development plans for a second, 960-square-foot building on the property, Riley said.
Riley said the building, a former gas station, has already attracted interest from potential tenants drawn by a North Main location that gives it proximity to the massive BullStreet Commons redevelopment without being a part of that billion-dollar, 20-year buildout.
“We’re hoping that momentum keeps building,” he said. “You start one by one, improving properties, and that instills confidence that more people want to move out there.”
Streetscape improvements from Elmwood to the railroad trestle at Earlewood Park have added to the area’s appeal. Davis said the $35 million second phase of those improvements, to stretch from Anthony Avenue to just below Columbia College and be funded by a mix of federal and Richland County Transportation Penny Program, will begin in December.
Davis said North Main, with zoning laws friendly to mixed-used development, is the focus of ongoing infrastructure attention, including parking plans, from the city.
“It’s the next natural progression for growth to happen,” Riley said. “You’ve got properties that are undervalued, and you’ve got the resources to bring value to them. … It makes Columbia as a whole that much more of an attractive destination when you have all these pockets of diverse locations.”