Palmetto Center

Adding color to iconic downtown building up for debate

jwilkinson@thestate.comJanuary 25, 2013 

proposed color scheme for Palmetto Center

  • If you go The city’s Design Development Review Commission will meet today with architects for a Chicago company that wants to convert the 21-story Palmetto Center into student housing. Some commission members and others have objected to the colorful new paint scheme for the building while approving of the plan overall. The meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the city planning office, 1136 Washington St., in the third floor conference room.

— A city design board today will meet with Chicago architects to discuss a colorful new paint job for one of the Columbia skyline’s most recognizable buildings — the 21-story Palmetto Center, former home of SCE&G.

Chicago-based Core Campus wants to paint the building – which it is converting into private dorms – in a series of gray and white stripes flecked with colorful square panels. They say the palate will be more attractive to the 800 or so students it hopes to attract to the former office building when it is redeveloped next year. The firm also wants to paint dark gray the pre-cast ribbed columns that support the building.

Some local architects – including the building’s original local architects – think the new paint would be a travesty, and likened the colorful panels to polka dots.

“If it were a two-story building it might be considered whimsical,” said architect Ashby Gressette, whose Stevens &Wilkinson firm partnered with Atlanta firm Thompson, Ventulett, Stanback & Associates to design the building in the 1980s. “But for one of the most prominent icons on the Columbia skyline it looks ugly, stick-on and cartoonish.”

The city Design Development Review Commission earlier this month gave unanimous final approval to turn the 21-story Main Street building, which has been empty since SCE&G moved to Cayce in 2009, into student housing.

Commission 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 rejected the colorful paint scheme.

“I’m a huge fan; it’s a great idea,” member Lesesne Monteith said at the Jan. 10 meeting. “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.”

Detractors of the new paint said the building won awards for architecture when it was built in 1983, in tandem with a second building which now houses the Marriott Hotel. The paint would break up the collaborative design of the two buildings, they say.

“There is a certain harmony between the two buildings because of the materials,” Gressette said.

But Core Campus chief executive Ben Modleski, in an email to The State, said he thinks the paint job looks “really fantastic.”

“But everyone is entitled to their own opinion in the same way that you and I probably have a different taste in what color car we enjoy driving,” he wrote.

A subcommittee of the design board will meet today with architects to try to hash out a compromise – although the makeup of that subcommittee is not set in stone and any commission member can attend. But it is unclear if a quorum will be present and no official notice was given of the meeting.

Commission chairman David Ross, an attorney, said he did not expect a quorum to attend or notice would have been set out by staff as is legally required.

“It’s going to be sort of a workshop,” he said. “We usually don’t have a quorum in those cases. It is not the intention of the meeting to approve or disapprove” the paint scheme.

The Core Campus renovation, called The Hub at Columbia, is one of six new apartment projects being built or considered for downtown Columbia in the first building boom to hit the city since the recent recession. Four of those developments are geared to students; two will be marketed to everyone.

The others 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 developer PMC, which also renovated the mill. The project would include 6,500 square feet of retail space. It is still in the planning stages.

•  A USC-proposed $35 million, 500-bed dorm combined with classroom space in the parking lots of the Colonial Life Arena, also still in plan development.

•  Edwards Communities of Ohio also plans a large student housing development along Blossom Street, adjacent to the Monarch project. However, plans for the 800-bed, $40 million complex were turned back by the city’s design board last month for not complying with USC’s Innovista Design Guidelines. Developers have been granted a re-hearing.

•  Charleston’s The Beach Company is doubling the size of its 200-apartment complex on the riverfront at the foot of Taylor Street. The new CanalSide phase features upscale apartments with rents ranging from $890 a month for a studio to $1,650 for a two-story, two-bedroom.

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