Palmetto compress

City Council votes to buy historic warehouse

jwilkinson@thestate.comMarch 19, 2013 

Columbia City Council on Tuesday agreed by a 6-1 vote to purchase the Palmetto Compress warehouse, a building on the National Register of Historic Places that was threatened with demolition just days ago.

Council authorized the city manager to negotiate a sale with the owners — a group headed by Columbia businessman John Lumpkin and members of the influential McNair family.

No target price was offered by city officials; but a city development expert said land in the Vista, where the building is located, goes for about $1 million an acre, and the site is about five acres. A demolition permit obtained by the owners said it would cost $381,000 to raze the building.

“We are going to seize this opportunity for the people,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said.

The action could be the death knell for a plan by Ohio company Edwards Communities to build a $40 million, 800-bed private student dorm on the property near the University of South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena and Greek Village.

That plan — which required demolition of the nearly century-old, 320,00-square-foot building — drew the ire of preservationists and others, and was rejected by the city’s Design Development Review Commission as not complying with development guidelines for USC’s Innovation District.

“I don’t think Edwards has a place at that table,” Columbia attorney Robert Fuller, who represented Edwards Communities in its zoning applications, said of the negotiations between the city and the owners. “Obviously, Edwards had invested a lot of time and effort to development on that property and are disappointed in the events that led to this.”

Fuller, who said that Edwards’ contract to purchase the property had expired, would not comment on whether the company has any legal recourse.

Efforts to contact the Palmetto Compress owners were not immediately successful Tuesday.

City officials did not identify a funding source for the purchase, which council directed new city manager Teresa Wilson to negotiate by the next City Council meeting on April 2. Officials said, for instance, if a public use for the structure, such as a museum, is included in the development plan, hospitality taxes could be used to back bonds for the purchase.

However, the officials said that the city would rather form a partnership with private developers to purchase the property, using in part projected revenue from federal, state and local tax credits granted to the preservation of historic buildings.

The city’s decision was praised by supporters of preservation efforts, who had rallied, sent hundreds of emails, signed petitions and embarked on a social media campaign to pressure council to save the building.

“Everybody is very gratified that City Council has the vision to facilitate preservation and adaptive reuse of this landmark structure,” said Bob Guild, an attorney and president of the nearby Granby Mill Village neighborhood association. “Saving the last remaining piece of cotton culture along Blossom Street is a real, positive development. It’s great news.”

Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., a city agency that encourages and guides development in the Vista, said that several developers have expressed interest in taking on at least parts of the project.

“I’ve had communication with developers in the last two hours,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting. “We don’t have a deal yet, but we’ll know more in the next few days.”

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