Area business, community and political leaders stood in the parking lot of a shopping plaza pockmarked by empty storefronts, looking towards the on-ramp to Interstate 20 and envisioning a game-changing development.
The assembled crowd milled around renderings of plans for an 80-acre residential and commercial community, called Azurest at Heritage Creek, this morning during an official unveiling at Greenview Plaza. The development is planned across North Main Street at 1307 Mason Road on land held in trust by the Monteith family, venerable civic and civil rights leaders in Columbia for decades.
“It is North Columbia’s time, and we are excited,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin told the crowd.
“It’s economically and geographically true,” the mayor expounded. “The northeastern part of the country is booming. The northwestern part of the county is booming. (This) is perfect timing, a perfect piece of property.”
The renderings depicted houses and townhomes, a senior living facility, a walking trail, a hotel, boutique shops, business offices, sit-down and fast-food restaurants, medical clinics and a co-op grocery store.
“This area has sort of been overlooked for a number of decades,” said Cecil Hannibal, director of the city’s Eau Claire Development Corporation. “It takes the private sector coming in, and the public sector with the city and the county, to support these types of efforts.”
Hannibal said the planning phase of the project took a year. Construction could start next year.
The Eau Claire Development Corporation is working with private developer WAT Properties on the project.
“My vision was to make a lot of jobs available,” said Willie Tompkins, owner of WAT Properties and a 30-year Columbia resident. “I just knew something needed to be done with it.”
Tompkins told The State newspaper that the development is currently being funded entirely by private funds. He declined to estimate the cost of the development, but said it would bring millions in investment and create hundreds of jobs.
“The vision for North Columbia is real, has always been real, and despite what anybody may tell you, we are investing in this part of the city,” District 1 City Councilman Sam Davis said in remarks to the crowd. “It’s a about a quality development that’s going to service this area, that’s going to service people exiting I-20, that’s going to service people coming from downtown.”
Benjamin said bringing quality retail and residential development to North Columbia is important not just to spruce up the I-20 corridor traveled daily by hundreds of cars but to put property owned by a prominent local family to a use that will improve the community.
Modjeska Monteith Simkins was a leader in public health and social reform whose life spanned the entire 20th century. The Monteith family founded Columbia’s first black-owned bank, Victory Bank, in 1921, and Henrie Monteith was one of three students who integrated the University of South Carolina in 1963.
“The family has been an essential part of Columbia for the last 150 years,” Benjamin said. “Heritage Creek means something. There’s heritage here. This is an important piece of land with a story to tell that I think is representative of the story of our city.”