A student housing project planned for Main Street cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when Columbias zoning appeals board gave the green light for a Chicago company to convert the former SCANA building.
The board approved the $80 million proposal by Core Campus LLC to house 850 young tenants in the Palmetto Center after the city and the company presented a plan to make the adjacent city garage where the students will park safer by adding security guards, extra lighting and cameras.
At 21 stories, the building is one of the citys landmark high rises, but it has remained vacant since the energy giant and its 900 employees left in 2009 for a new headquarters complex in Cayce.
Some people view the central business district as unsafe, in large part because of panhandlers. But the Palmetto Center, which sits in the heart of a Main Street that is in the midst of a transformation, has an opportunity to become a beacon of security and change the environment of the street, zoning board chairman Ernest Cromartie said.
The Core Campus proposal was the first in a wave of student housing projects planned for downtown. An Ohio developer wants to tear down the Palmetto Compress building along Blossom Street near Huger to build student housing. And Columbia developer Ben Arnold is looking to partner with a Charlotte developer on a student housing complex in the same area.
Core Campus plans to convert the Palmetto Center into a 258-unit private dorm with 851 beds by the fall of 2014. The 10- to 12-month conversion project could begin as early as next spring, Core Campus project manager Tom Harrington said.
The name of the development would be The Hub on Main Street at Palmetto Center.
The number of bedrooms per unit would range from 1 to 5. The company needed the boards approval for a special exception from the city to include units with more than three bedrooms. The board at a previous meeting requested a detailed security plan before voting. Tuesday, the board voted 6-1 to approve the change.
The sole dissenting vote was made by member Calhoun McMeekin III, a real estate broker who said he was opposed to putting students in the area on principle because he believes it could be unsafe for younger people, particularly at night and if they have been drinking.
The majority of the board wants this and you can only tilt at windmills for so long, he said. But I had to vote my conscience.
Harrington said the exception was a major hurdle cleared, but the company must negotiate a lease for both parking spaces in the garage and a plan to place amenities on the top level of the garage. Those amenities include a pool, hot tub, sand volleyball court and grills. A large green screen will provide privacy to the patrons and downtown neighbors, according to the company.
John David Spade, the citys director of parking services, said the amenities would eliminate space that could generate revenue for the city and that issue would have to be part of the lease negotiations in addition to the needs of the student residents. Also, the city and the company would have to make sure that the top deck would be structurally sound enough for a pool and the other features.
We have to negotiate a rate and make sure the changes to garage are structurally sound, he said.
The students will use about 338 spaces in the garage. The company also plans to convert basement space in the building into 88 parking spaces and 215 bicycle spaces.
Planned indoor amenities for the project include a fitness center, steam rooms, yoga, conference and club rooms, and a study lounge, among others, most of which would be on the 11th floor of the building, city documents say. Retail space is planned for the street level.
Matt Kennell, president and CEO of City Center Partnership, which encourages and guides development in the central business district, said the students will help continue Main Streets revival.
The students bring the much needed people to shop, to eat, to extend the day on Main Street and create new markets for goods and services, he said.
Kennell said the partnerships yellow shirts unarmed civilian foot patrols also would add to the buildings security.
The yellow shirts adapt to the needs of downtown, he said. I feel the city police department will do the same. Its just a different kind of demand, and well make sure they have a good experience.