While two high-profile downtown development projects have lost a bit of momentum, industry insiders remain confident that Columbia’s overall growth picture is a vibrant one.
Last week, both The Edge high-rise apartment building planned for the corner of Assembly and Washington streets and the Kline City Center project signaled a slowing of their approaches. Construction on The Edge, a $70 million, 355,000-square-foot, 15-story building designed to house more than 600 students, was to have begun this past spring, but recent communication from its developer indicates the project may not be completed until 2019.
Kline City Center, a $100 million, mixed-use development planned for the corner of Huger and Gervais streets, has also scaled back its plans, reducing the number of planned market-rate apartments and abandoning plans for a city parking deck and a $1 million plaza connecting the Vista with the riverfront.
Changing strategies are to be expected in a city experiencing as much growth as quickly as Columbia has, said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp. The city has added around 4,000 people to its downtown residential core in the past three years.
“We’ve had this explosion of new residential growth, much of that being student-related,” Delk said. “We have had an enormous amount of units built. It is my feeling that particularly the student developers are just taking a break, taking a deep breath, and saying, ‘Let’s wait this out.’ ”
The Edge’s momentum stalled six months ago because of design concerns. Different factors may be driving the latest delay, including two other new student housing complexes in the works: the University of South Carolina’s $460 million, 3,750-bed “campus village” planned for the south area of campus as well as a private, 507-bed complex slated for Shop Road near Williams-Brice Stadium.
“My guess is that the developers are just sorting it out,” said Matt Kennell, president and CEO of City Center Partnership, which encourages and guides central business district growth. With the university growing at around 1,000 students a year — including a record freshman class of 5,800 for this academic year — continued residential development is inevitable, he said.
“We’re going to continue to have growth in student housing. There’s no way around it,” Kennell said. “It’s just a matter of timing. I think these developers are watching the market and will break ground when they think the timing is right.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin told The State newspaper that St. Louis-based CRG subsidiary Clayco has assured him that The Edge will be completed in 2019. Russ Caplin, CRG managing director of multi-family development, said in a prepared statement: “We are still pursuing the project and look forward to our continued work with Mayor Benjamin and members of the community.”
As for Kline City Center, Kennell said Greenville-based developer Homes Urban originally envisioned “public participation in a big way,” with the city considering a special tax district to fund 360 apartments and a 140-room hotel complete with a parking deck and a plaza. Instead, an amended plan filed with the city last Wednesday scrapped the public components and cut the planned number of apartment units to 218.
“The support just wasn’t there,” Kennell said. “The developer, going alone, is going a different way.”
Snags have also been encountered at the Commons at BullStreet, which fired its retail recruiter when a planned 400,000-square-foot, 80-store retail showplace didn’t take shape. But Kennell sees encouraging signs there, pointing to plans announced to open the area’s first restaurant, Bone-In Barbeque, in winter 2017-18.
“BullStreet will develop, but I think it’s going to develop slower and in a different way than they originally expected,” Kennell said.
Kennell added that the Main Street corridor continues to boom, with a 41-room boutique hotel on track for a January opening.
Said Delk: “There are other development projects that are moving forward at very good speed. Don’t confuse big-picture development with student (housing) development.”