It was a Palmetto Compress face off Tuesday without a clear winner yet.
The mood in the room was tense as leaders of Columbias historic preservation community and advocates for razing the nearly century-old former cotton warehouse to make way for a $40 million college dormitory complex laid out their arguments for three hours to a City Council committee.
The panel took no action.
Its not low-hanging fruit, but, yes, its workable, said developer Richard Burts, who is an advocate for the buildings preservation. He wants the city to grant landmark protection to the cotton warehouse so that someone can step in with an adaptive use of the property. It wont matter if you slow down the process.
Yes, it will matter, shot back John Currie, one of the buildings owners, who who have been trying to market the property for 26 years. The city will lose $40 million off the tax rolls. Twenty-six years is not haste, he added in reaction to comments from other preservationists that owners are rushing to close the dormitory deal with a Columbus, Ohio, company.
The sprawling structures size and design as a warehouse and its sloping floors that keep the walls erect make reuse impossible for much more than the storage warehouse its now being used as, the owners say.
The building itself is its own worst enemy, said Steve Simonetti, an executive in land acquisition and development for the interested buyer, Edwards Communities, told the committee.
He and Currie questioned why preservationists just now are calling for landmark designation. That level of protection would kill the project, Simonetti said.
Perhaps the most poignant moments in the extended debate Tuesday came from people who once lived and worked in the African-American neighborhoods that once surrounded the warehouse.
My brothers and I learned to play baseball throwing rubber balls up against those brick walls, Richard Caughman said. I could throw in a couple of dollars. Would that help to keep you from tearing it down?
Mattie Anderson, 70, said she grew up in the Ward 1 community and moved back to Columbia five years ago. When she drives across the Blossom Street railroad flyover and sees the aging warehouse, she says to herself, Mattie, youre home.
Robert Fuller, an attorney representing the owners, said they have spent several million to holding onto and maintain the building and property.
Robin Waites, director of the Historic Columbia Foundation, said the city needs to start preserving more of its architectural history and culture.
Your choice today, Waites told the committee, is to give a green light to the wrecking ball or give this building a chance.
Theres a lot at stake, said the committees chairman, Councilman Cameron Runyan. I feel like Ive got a lot more learning to do.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.