Student housing project at Palmetto Center a ‘go’

jwilkinson@thestate.comJanuary 11, 2013 

— A city of Columbia design review board on Thursday gave unanimous final approval to turn the 21-story Palmetto Center on Main Street, which has been empty since SCE&G moved to Cayce in 2009, into housing for 800 students — a project estimated to cost $40 million.

And the Design Development Review Commission gave new life to another 800-student project – this one planned for the site of the Palmetto Compress warehouse on Blossom Street. In a bizarre series of votes, the panel agreed 5-4 to rehear the $40 million proposal by Ohio-based Edwards Communities, which would include tearing down the historic building.

The two projects are the largest in a wave of downtown housing aimed mainly at USC’s growing student body.

Board members called the plans for the Palmetto Center – which include turning half of the top deck of an adjacent parking garage into a pool, volleyball and recreation area – a perfect fit for downtown. But they rejected a colorful paint scheme for the venerable building, which featured horizontal white and gray stripes peppered with small panels featuring 15 different colors. Members said it looked liked the building was covered in polka dots.

“I’m a huge fan (of converting the building into student housing); it’s a great idea,” said member Lesesne Monteith. “But I have great reservations about (the paint). It’s like the athlete who won a gold medal at the Olympics and had it bronzed.”

The commission approved the project, but will work with the developers, Chicago-based Core Campus, on the color scheme.

The commission in a contentious vote also granted a rehearing for the Edwards project, but only after a bewildering series of votes.

The board by a 7-1 vote last month rejected the plan because it didn’t meet the Innovista Masterplan Guidelines for density, structured parking and connectivity with campus.

Members were split generally down the middle on the issue.

Four board members thought that the company and building owners did not meet the criteria for a rehearing, because no new information was to be presented, no factual errors were made in their presentation and no clerical errors were made by the commission or their staff.

Four board members said they favored a rehearing because the company was not allowed at the end of the meeting to rebut the more than 20 people who spoke in opposition.

The commission twice moved to grant a rehearing, and twice to reject it. Member Doris Hildebrand each time changed her vote to defeat motions for and against, leaving the commission at a stalemate. Then on the fifth motion she voted to grant the rehearing, even though in her comments she said she opposed the project because of the demolition of the warehouse..

The Hub at Columbia is scheduled for completion in August 2014. The commission will hear the Edwards proposal again next month.

The others projects planned for downtown are:

•  Monarch at USC, by Charlotte-based Monarch Ventures. The $60 million project on a vacant site at Huger and Blossom streets will be home to 600 students. It is set for completion in August 2014.

•  A new 200-unit apartment complex on about six acres of property in front of Granby Mill in Olympia by Philadelphia develop PMC, which also renovated the mill. The project would include 6,500 square feet of retail space.

•  USC also is considering a $35 million, 500-bed dorm combined with classroom space in the parking lots of the Colonial Life Arena.

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