A $40 million Assembly Street shopping center many believe will be anchored by an urban Walmart got one step closer to reality Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Columbia city manager Steve Gantt signed a 56-page contract in which the city agrees to sell the six-acre Capital City Stadium on Assembly Street to a developer that develops Walmart sites. That six acres is in the middle of the proposed 23-acre shopping center site. Without that city property, the center would be difficult to build.
The contract requires developer Bright-Meyers to pay the city $1 million and to take significant steps to relieve flooding in the area, which is part of the Rocky Branch watershed drainage system. The contract also requires the city to spend $500,000 of the $1 million it receives from Bright-Meyers to alleviate nearby flooding.
The contract wont be finalized until Bright-Meyers meets all conditions attached to it, Gantt said.
That may be nine months or a year from now, Gantt said. Then we go ahead with the actual sale of the property.
Gantts signing the contact was a milestone in what has been an often contentious eight-months of protests.
The saga pitted hundreds of residents alarmed about traffic congestion, flooding and pollution issues so close to the Congaree River against city officials and council members. Many city officials had welcomed the promise of some $2 million in new city and county taxes and fees each year and the creation of more than 400 jobs.
Matt Sasser, vice-president of Atlanta-based Bright-Meyers, described himself as happy with the contracts terms and doesnt anticipate any problems.
This is long-awaited, Sasser said, who said construction will being immediately following our closing, or in about a year.
Some hurdles remain under the contracts terms.
After Bright-Meyers signs the contract, the company must then complete a detailed site plan and engineering studies certifying the project will not increase current flooding. Then, the company must get approval for various parts of the project from the Richland County government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Then, city engineers must also review and accept or reject Bright-Meyers proposals to deal with flooding and water quality issues. The city also has to approve building designs on the property for attractiveness, many of which are specified in the contract.
Critics of the proposed development said they are glad Bright-Meyers will pay for improvements to combat flooding.
However, Ryan Nevius, executive director of Sustainable Midlands, said: We will want to see the detailed plans of what they say they will do.
Last December, as the seven-member council readied to direct Gantt to sign a contract with Bright-Meyers, a large, vocal protest by residents about flooding and traffic issues put the proposal on hold. In response to residents concerns, City Council spent some $100,000 to hire an outside firm, Amec Environment and Infrastructure Inc., to study flooding and pollution issues.
Much of the old baseball property and surrounding land where the shopping center would go is low-lying and susceptible to floods that make portions of nearby roads impassable in heavy rains. The area is at the downstream end of the Rocky Branch watershed that drains the Five Points business district, flows through parts of the University of South Carolina, across Assembly Street, past the baseball field through the Olympia community and into the Congaree River.
The Amec study concluded that if Bright-Meyers took steps to offset pollution and flooding the proposed development would not worsen those problems.
City Council reviewed the study and, in early June, authorized Gantt to sell the property, making certain that Bright-Meyers had to comply with environmental concerns.
In an interview Wednesday, Gantt stressed that the contract requires Bright-Meyers to take significant steps to address flooding issues.
The contract left open the amount to be spent by Bright-Meyers as it addresses flooding and pollution. Sasser estimated it would cost $500,000.
But he cant add any additional flooding opportunities to Rocky Branch based on his development, Gantt said.
Bright-Meyers had agreed to make watershed improvements early on. The three major steps the contract requires they do and pay for are:
• Improve the Bluff Road railroad embankment.
• Remove a railroad trestle downstream of Olympia Avenue.
• Enlarge the Olympia Avenue culvert.
The contract further requires the city to spend $500,000 from the proceeds of the sale to make additional improvements to reduce flooding and improve water quality from Assembly Street to the Congaree River. The city, Bright-Meyers, and other parties will work together to coordinate that work with Bright-Meyers initial improvements.
Our hope is that between the money the developer obligates for that project, and the money the city is obligating, we will have done those things necessary (to control flooding) at least from the Congaree River to Assembly Street, Gantt said.
Gantt said flood control improvements the city and Bright-Meyers will make should make it easier to deal with other parts of the Rocky Branch watershed up to Five Points. If you start upstream and make improvements, you increase flooding downstream.
Developers hope the proposed Walmart complex will be a major profit center.
More than 30,000 University of South Carolina students live within two miles, and except for the Publix on Rosewood Drive, there are few other major grocery stores close by. The shopping center will have 774 parking spaces, an underground garage, 300 bike racks, three junior anchor tenants besides Wal-Mart and up to a dozen smaller restaurants and shops.
At a planned 93,000 square feet, the proposed Walmart would be less than one-half the size of many larger Walmarts, which can average up to 300,000 square feet.
Fred Delk, executive director of the citys Columbia Development Corp., said he expects the new shopping center, located in the middle of an Assembly Street industrial corridor, will be a catalyst for new, upscale development in that area.
The city will require that the shopping center which will have 325 trees and be pedestrian-friendly be attractive to the eye, Delk said.
Building sizes will be smaller, there will be more windows, and sometimes instead of windows, there can be glazings that appear to be windows that are lit from behind, different kinds of siding materials that you would necessarily see in a concrete block structure, Delk said. This developer is interested in doing something that has a nice appearance.
Although Wal-Mart has not officially announced it will be building there, Delk said, I would be surprised if its not Wal-Mart.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.