Agape Senior celebrates move to Columbia’s Main Street, restoration of old buildings

Move to downtown celebrated Tuesday with reception, building tours

nophillips@thestate.comJanuary 23, 2013 

— The chief executive officer of Agape Senior has a soft spot for old buildings, especially when looking for locations across the state for his assisted-living facilities, rehab centers and other businesses.

So it did not take too much cajoling to convince Scott Middleton to move Agape Senior’s corporate headquarters to Columbia’s Main Street from West Columbia. Along with the offices, Agape Senior will open a primary health clinic for senior citizens, a vegan cafe, a fitness center, a pharmacy and a conference center.

“We’re not just bringing corporate headquarters down here,” Middleton said. “We’re bringing health care to downtown Columbia.”

Agape Senior celebrated the move Tuesday night with a ceremony, reception and building tours for several hundred people. The company, which provides health care services to the elderly, announced its plans in December to occupy three buildings on the 1600 block of Main Street, between Taylor and Blanding streets. The $8 million project will lead to the renovation of three historic spaces that once were home to a Kimbrell’s Furniture store, Schulte’s Department Store and a W.T. Grant store.

The fitness center and cafe will open in the spring, and the remaining pieces of the business will open through late summer.

Already, Agape has transformed old hospitals in Laurens and Rock Hill into assisted-living homes and rehab centers. The company’s current headquarters is in West Columbia’s former city hall, Middleton said.

“We love taking old stuff and making it new again,” he said. “Isn’t that appropriate for Agape Senior?”

Lee Mashburn Jr., executive vice president of Mashburn Construction, joked about pitching the project when the buildings had broken windows, leaky roofs and musty smells. One of the buildings had been vacant for 10 years, and another had been empty for five years.

“We started thinking of this project when there were only a few starving businesses on Main Street,” Mashburn said.

Now, the 1600 block of Main is home to some of the most popular spots on the street, including Mast General Store and the Nickelodeon Theatre.

Robin Waites, executive director of the Historic Columbia Foundation, offered a history lesson on the buildings, describing how they were built in the 1920s and ’30s as national chains moved into Columbia. She said the businesses brought history, stability and sophistication to downtown during their time and now Agape was restoring those same qualities for Main Street.

“It’s becoming one of the most dynamic places for businesses to settle,” Waites said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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