Historic building faces demolition

tflach@thestate.comFebruary 26, 2013 

The historic Palmetto Compress warehouse in the Vista is headed for demolition.

Owners of the century-old building in downtown Columbia plan to start razing it soon, after notifying city officials last week of their intent.

The decision comes even as a legal battle churns over a plan to use the site for new housing for students.

“We can’t continue to maintain the cost of the property as it is,” John Currie, one of the building’s owners, said Monday. “Operating the business exceeds the income and has for a number of years.”

Tenants have until March 31 to remove items stored, building manager Glenda Davis said.

The move comes as historic preservationists mount a legal challenge to a city panel’s approval of a $40 million complex that would house 800 students.

Tearing down the warehouse is an unfortunate decision, said Mike Bedenbaugh, executive director of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation.

His group believes the facility in the 600 block of Devine Street can be adapted for “survival in changing times,” he said.

“We regret they are throwing away a perfectly good building that adds something to the character of the city.”

It is among nine buildings associated with local African-American history, according to city preservation officials and the Historic Columbia Foundation.

The owners have told city officials the structure’s size and design make it impossible to be used for anything but storage.

Tearing down the three-story structure may take until Sept. 1, plans given city officials say.

Razing will proceed regardless of the fate of the proposed housing complex, with much of the warehouse material recycled, Currie said.

Tearing it down is not a condition of selling the site to an Ohio company that wants to put student housing there, he said.

Demolition is a $381,000 project, records show.

An attempt to prevent demolition is under consideration, said Toby Ward, attorney for Bedenbaugh’s organization.

“Everyone interested in historic preservation is surely disappointed at the direction things seem to be headed,” Ward said.

Some preservationists appealed for a few more months to come up with a redevelopment strategy for the facility.

“There are viable candidates out there who can do this, given time,” said Richard Burts, a developer who has updated other buildings. “If this building comes down, it will be a remarkably sad day.”

If the Palmetto Compress warehouse is razed, it will be the second historic building with African-American ties to be torn down in recent months.

The Waverly 5-and-10-cent store on Gervais Street, owned by civil rights pioneer George Elmore, was demolished in July for an expansion by property owner First Nazareth Baptist Church.

Staff writer Clif LeBlanc contributed to this story.

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