Columbias student housing boom took another step forward Thursday as one of the first new projects since the economic downturn was approved by the citys design review board.
Monarch at USC, a 598-bed project on a vacant site at Huger and Blossom streets, is the second large project to gain regulatory approval in a wave of new private dorms planned near the University of South Carolina. Four proposed projects are expected to bring more than 2,500 students to the city core in the coming years.
My family has owned this proposed site roughly four acres most of it since 1963, so weve been waiting for the opportunity to do something really special for the town, said developer Ben Arnold, who is partnering with Monarch Ventures of Charlotte on the $60 million project.
Arnold appeared Thursday before the Design Development Review Commission with a team of engineers and architects to answer commissioners questions before the vote.
The project was postponed in July amid questions about traffic flow and pedestrian safety. The new plan, presented Thursday, includes an additional entrance to the property from Pulaski Street; the main entrance is from Wheat Street. It also provides for pedestrian-friendly lighting and connecting sidewalks.
The seven-story project will have a four-story parking deck surrounded by the residential units. And like many of the newer private dorms, it will be built for fun with amenities such as a resort-style rooftop pool, a courtyard, a fitness facility, a game-day terrace and a tanning salon. The project is within sight of the Gamecocks baseball stadium and within walking distance of Williams Brice football stadium.
The project carries with it 16 recommendations that must be addressed as developers proceed, ranging from sidewalks on Huger Street to the texture and appearance of retaining walls along Blossom, Wheat, Pulaski and Huger streets.
The only concern voiced by the community was from Bob Guild, president of the nearby Granby Neighborhood Association. While Guild voiced his support for the project, he said the association was concerned that it was cutoff from the university by railroad tracks.
There is really no practical way that you can ride a bicycle or walk to the campus without some ability to cross over the railroad track, Guild said.
While there have been some hypothetical discussions about pedestrian overpasses, no solid plans exist.
The commission asked the developers to consider those concerns as part of their approval of the project.
Commissioner Dale Marshall said the plans meet all the requirements of an urban development in the Innovista, and the commission unanimously approved the project, with all recommendations from the city staff. Building is likely to begin in the spring and be finished in time for fall move-in by students in 2014.
Other student housing projects in the planning stages for Columbia include:
• A $40 million plan by Ohio development firm Edwards Communities to bring around 800 beds to the site of the Palmetto Compress Building across Blossom Street from the Monarch project. The developer wants to demolish the historic building but has run into opposition from preservationists. Mayor Steve Benjamin, however, dropped his bid to turn the building into a Columbia landmark after a tour to assess the economic feasibility of converting the building into something usable.
• A $50 million to $80 million plan by Chicagos Core Campus to renovate the vacant Palmetto Center on Main Street into an 850-student dorm. The building has sat empty since September 2009, when SCE&G moved its 900 employees to a campus in Cayce. The Hub on Main Street at Palmetto Center recently cleared its last major hurdle by gaining approval from the citys zoning appeals board. The project also would open in the fall of 2014, developers have said.
• USC also is looking at grabbing a piece of the off-campus housing market by building a 500-bed dorm combined with classroom space for $35 million in the parking lots of the Colonial Life Arena, which is within walking distance of the Palmetto Compress and Monarch projects.
This is the second wave of private student housing since several complexes were built along Shop and Bluff roads several years ago. Those projects are further away than the ones being proposed now without connecting sidewalks for walking and biking but most provide shuttle services for students without other transportation.