Costco rumors are swirling through Columbia like a twister through Kansas.
Shop Around has heard of possible sites for the discount warehouse retailer ranging from Blythewood to downtown to Irmo in recent weeks.
But while the community is talking, the company isn’t. A representative last week said Costco doesn’t speak to the media.
Costco rumors are nothing new, of course. Commercial real estate agents say the company has been sniffing around the Midlands for years but has been hesitant to choose one side of town – Northeast Richland – over another – Harbison.
So what’s behind this latest Costco commotion?
Ben Johnson, research director for the CBRE|Columbia commercial real estate firm, isn’t sure. But he has been hearing rumblings, too.
“I really just think it’s (that) people desperately want one,” he said.
And why not?
The Midlands finally landed a long-coveted Whole Foods grocery store last year and is waiting patiently for its first Trader Joe’s to open on Forest Drive in the next couple of months. The Upstate, the Lowcountry and even Augusta all have Costco in their communities.
The latest set of rumored sites for Costco in the Columbia area include: Killian Road in Blythewood, the old Kmart on Fort Jackson Boulevard, the Bull Street redevelopment and the current site of the Staples off Harbison Boulevard.
Costco needs at least 16 acres and likes to be near an interstate or a large mass of people, Johnson said, so that rules out the Kmart site, which is only 10 acres.
But it still is not clear whether the retailer even is looking in the Columbia market again.
“I haven’t heard anything that would make me say, ‘Yeah, that’s going to happen,’ ” Johnson said.
But all of the sites and others are prime for development as the commercial real estate market starts to see a rebound in the Midlands, he said.
The Vista, in particular, seems poised for growth.
Speaking of rumors, there are heavy ones that an Urban Outfitters is set for the Vista’s Gervais Street – but no one wants to confirm it. And company officials, contacted late Thursday, did not respond to questions by press time.
In general, though, “there are a number of retail things getting ready to happen” in the downtown area, said Fred Delk, head of the Columbia Development Corp.
“I am predicting $100 million in new investment in the Vista this year,” he said. That includes a new USC alumni center and a new Hyatt Hotel, as well as yet-to-be-announced retail developments, he said.
“There’s a lot of good retail space out there that there’s no news about,” Johnson said. “As some of those things start to come together … 2013 and 2014 could be really big years for Columbia retail.”
And while scoring a Costco would be a coup for the capital city, the one crucial missing piece in the retail scene for Johnson is something a little smaller: “As a consumer, the piece for me that would say Columbia has arrived would be an Apple store.”