Members of a Columbia design review board on Thursday postponed approval of a seven-story, 612-bed student housing project at Huger and Blossom streets, saying they needed more detailed information about pedestrian safety, traffic flow and other issues.
However, members of the Design Development Review Commission said they liked the $40 million project and would likely approve it when the questions are answered and a traffic study is complete.
“I think … it’s ideally suited,” member Dale Marshal said of the project, which is a partnership between Columbia developer Ben Arnold and Monarch Ventures of Charlotte.
In addition to Arnold’s project, an Ohio developer is considering reviving a plan to turn the area around the old Palmetto Compress building off Blossom Street into private dorms. A third firm is planning to convert the former Palmetto Center on Main Street into housing for 800 students.
The Monarch at USC project will include amenities such as a resort-style rooftop pool, a courtyard, a fitness facility, a game-day terrace and a tanning salon. On-site parking also is included.
“We’re in the hospitality business,” said Monarch’s head of development, Mike Chatham. “It’s almost like a resort.”
The project is already in the Innovista Design District, which encourages such residential development. The vote by the commission – which oversees such design aspects as height, building materials and colors – will be the only city approval needed for the project.
Chatham said Monarch likely will bring the project back for approval at its August or September meetings. If the project is approved, construction would begin next spring and be completed by fall 2014.
Steve Simonetti, vice president for land acquisition for Columbus, Ohio, development firm Edwards Communities, confirmed Thursday that they have signed a contract with the USC Development Foundation to purchase property around the compress building and on the south side of Blossom Street between Arnold’s property and USC’s Greek Village.
“It’s a great school,” said Simonetti, who attended Thursday’s meeting to monitor the progress of Arnold’s project. “It’s a great city. We believe the sites we are looking at are great sites.”
The new complexes would be closer to USC and the downtown area than the cluster of student housing that sprang up several years ago along Bluff Road near I-77, several miles from the university – an advantage, the developers said.
“The existing student housing is distant,” Simonetti said. “We want our student residents to be able to walk to campus.”
Simonetti said Edwards Communities is presently doing “due diligence” before committing to a land purchase and has no solid plan for the number of beds or other details. He added that he doesn’t know if the compress building would be part of the project or be demolished to make way for it.
Simonetti said competition from Arnold and the Palmetto Center would figure into Edward’s decision whether or not to build here.
“All competition impacts what we do,” he said.
Chatham said he welcomed the other projects.
“We welcome the competition,” he said. “We have to be the best operators.”
This is the second student housing project the year-old Monarch has tackled. The other is in Conway near Coastal Carolina University. The company has said other locations are planned for next year throughout the Southeast.
On Tuesday, another city board deferred Core Campus LLC’s request for a zoning change for the Palmetto Center in the 1400 block on Main Street.
The company wants the Board of Zoning Appeals to allow it to create four-bedroom apartments. Currently, a building in that section of downtown can only have three people living in a common rented space.
The board deferred a decision until the company develops and presents a safety plan for students outside of the building, particularly from a nearby parking garage to the building’s entrance.
The building has sat empty since September 2009, when SCE&G moved its 900 employees to a suburban campus in Cayce.
City Council members, including Mayor Steve Benjamin, have said they hope the renovation and repopulation of the building will continue the momentum on Main Street, which has attracted a Mast General Store and other retailers in the past couple of years.
Downtown boosters said the student housing along Blossom also would boost retail and hospitality in the Vista.