Facelift sought for West Columbia’s oldest neighborhood

tflach@thestate.comDecember 26, 2012 

  • At a glance Land uses in 76-acre downtown West Columbia include: • Stores, restaurants, bars and other commercial: 39 acres • Homes and apartments: 11 acres • City Hall and other public facilities: 8 acres • Churches: 4 acres • Undeveloped: 12 acres • Parking and other: 2 acres

West Columbia is considering a facelift for its oldest neighborhood near the Congaree River.

The plan, developed from suggestions by residents and business owners, recommends a series of steps to revitalize a 76-acre area from which the city of 15,000 grew west.

It’s a package that includes:

• Creating a historic preservation area on State Street

• Adding landscaping and bicycling lanes on roads, particularly Meeting Street and Sunset Boulevard

• Installing lights and signs to mark the area

• Trying to expand Riverwalk Park, a site for concerts and other gatherings

• Encouraging redevelopment of longtime commercial sections like Capitol Square shopping center

Starting a shuttle with Vista shops across the river in Columbia to bring more customers to the west side

Mayor Joe Owens likes many of the recommendations, saying much of the package “is going to transpire.”

But the park expansion is up in the air.

City officials want to acquire a long-closed restaurant adjacent to the park, but it’s not for sale, Owens said.

Gregg Pinner, executive director of the West Metro Chamber of Commerce, hopes persistence will pay off.

Transforming the one-acre site on which the restaurant sits into more parking with a plaza and small shops would lessen congestion at events in the park amphitheater, he said.

“Things are in danger of being choked off due to lack of parking,” he said.

The package of recommendations is a blueprint to strengthen the area, city planning director Brian Carter said.

It outlines steps over 20 years designed to lure new stores and offices while keeping it attractive for homeowners.

The most expensive piece for City Hall is landscaping and bicycle lanes on major roads, estimated at $4 million. Park expansion is projected at $1.1 million after purchase.

“It’s a roadmap for improvement that’s very realistic,” Carter said of the plan.

Meanwhile, city leaders are coping with one longtime dream lost for the area.

The goal of a public-private partnership to bring in new shops in a block near the Gervais Street Bridge fell apart, Owens said.

“It went south,” he said. “We’re back to square one.”

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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