Five Points businessman Scott Linaberry is moving forward with plans to turn the historic B-25 airplane hangar at Owens Field into a family restaurant and event location with an aviation flavor.
The 12,000 square-foot hangar in the Rosewood area, which houses a World War II bomber, has fallen into disrepair in recent years, according to Linaberry. He is working on renovation and restoration plans for the facility with Joe Rogers, a State House and S.C. Governor’s Mansion architect.
“We’re already working very closely with the South Carolina Historical Aviation Foundation,” said Linaberry. Both he and Rogers are pilots. “We have a lot of passion for the project. If we didn’t have passion, I don’t think we’d really do it. The heart has to lead a little bit more than the brain in this particular project.”
The area around the hangar has been growing in recent years with new businesses and residences coming into the area. But a plan to move the All Local Farmers Market there has fallen through in recent days.
Linaberry said his project, which has always been separate from the farmers market, is still viable. He should know by September whether his group will be allowed to purchase the hangar and move forward with renovations.
Initially Linaberry said he was approached about turning the hangar into a restaurant, but concluded the 12,000-square-foot space was more than the Columbia market could support.
They decided to turn it into some meeting spaces on the north side of the hanger, along with a warming kitchen for caterers and a large utility and storage area. The south wing of the structure will be a restaurant which, taking up the upper deck and lower area, will be about 3,500 square feet.
The main portion of the hangar will be an event venue, Linaberry said, suited to large parties, wedding receptions and other such gatherings. The vintage B-25 bomber that is in the hangar now would remain, becoming a centerpiece feature of the renovated and restored building suitable for nostalgia, effect and aviation education, Linaberry said.
Reception so far has “warm and supportive,” he said.
Thirty or so of these vintage hangars were built all across the country by the Curtiss-Wright Corp., Linaberry said, which was a coming together of Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers, who were fierce competitors in building aircraft back in the early 20th century.
The hangars were primarily service centers for early aircraft, which at the time were basically dedicated to airmail planes. Greenville-Spartanburg had the first airmail service center in South Carolina, he said. Then-Columbia Mayor L.B. Owens, for whom the city airfield is named, had the foresight to jockey for a service center in Columbia, Linaberry said, and the hangar was built in 1929.
Even with all the project’s challenges, the hangar’s days are numbered unless something is done with it soon, according to Linaberry. Owned by Richland County, the hangar’s restoration would be costly. Linaberry and his three business partners, CW Hangar Partners LLC, are looking to purchase the building from the county.
The Richland County Airport Commission will decide to whom the project is awarded and fair market appraisals and a final decision by the county whether to sell the property or not also would be pending, according to Linaberry.
Financing would have to be arranged and Linaberry estimates it would cost $4 million to bring the project into being. It could be September before the group knows whether they can get the building.
The Rosewood neighborhood will be key to the project’s success, if it launches as anticipated. Memorial Day 2014 would be the targeted opening.
“The whole plan of this restaurant really is, I want it to be a family-style restaurant that the neighborhood has to absolutely cherish. It has to be theirs. They need to feel some sort of ownership in there and bring their families and bring their children; and I don’t want any kid to walk out of there without learning something about aviation or about South Carolina history,” Linaberry said.
Dave Britt, Rosewood Merchants Association executive director, said Linaberry’s hangar renovation and restoration project is “a great idea.” Having seen Linaberry’s success with ventures in Five Points – Red Hot Tomatoes and Sharky’s – should mean more political and economic strength for the entire Rosewood community, he said.
“I definitely think it could spawn something,” Britt said. “The cool thing about the area is there are a lot of people living within walking distance, so people will just kind of walk to it, which is kind of neat.”