COLUMBIA, SC — The Vista may be a historic district, but it still has plenty of opportunities for new construction and new ideas.
Need proof? Just ask some of the most creative people in the neighborhood – artists and architects.
Here are some opinions about projects with promise, ideas that capitalize on some of its most distinctive details:
Chesley, a painter who has worked in the Vista for about a decade, mourned some of the iconic structures that the city allowed or even encouraged to be demolished: The railroad trestle, “a showcase piece of iron-age architecture.” The Seaboard Diner. Hiller Hardware.
And maybe – or maybe not – the Palmetto Compress and Warehouse Co. building.
Given the Vista’s architectural losses, Chesley suggests the firefighter training tower on Senate Street be turned into a clock tower, with four faces – perhaps with chimes. He likes it for its “deco feel,” and he’s convinced it would be an instant landmark, a meeting place.
The 1951 tower gave firefighters practice climbing up and rappelling down the exterior and carrying equipment up multiple flights of stairs. The structure is next to the old city fire station.
Both are abandoned, and the property is in foreclosure, said Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corp.
An architect and developer, Garvin said the Vista needs to take a page from Main Street by adapting upstairs spaces into high-end apartments.
He’s convinced small living spaces above storefronts would attract young professionals who want to work close to where they live.
Part of it is an environmental awareness, he said: “They want to walk or ride their bikes to work and not drive their cars 24 miles like the rest of us do.”
Garvin has rehabbed a stretch of property along one side of Lincoln Street, where his firm is located, and continues to explore the potential for apartments in historic, two-story buildings along Gervais, Lincoln and Lady streets.
As a footnote, the city has been tweaking streets in the Vista to make it more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
Riley, an architect with Studio 2LR, said the Vista lacks outdoor spaces – and one promising place to integrate meeting places with retail would be the corner of Gervais and Assembly streets.
“You’re looking at one of the most prominent intersections in Columbia,” now a chasm of high-speed traffic. Two of the four corners are asphalt parking lots.
As the gateway to the Vista, he suggests shops and restaurants that open onto a public plaza.
“Some type of public art project would be great on one of those corners,” Riley said. “You’ve got the (S.C. State) Museum on one end but, on the other end, it falls flat.”
He sees the potential for a pedestrian bridge over Assembly Street, either at Gervais or Lady streets. The city should see what comes of a design competition, he said.
Mary Beth Sims Branham
This architect finds fault on the other end of Gervais Street, suggesting the intersection of Huger and Gervais streets needs to become safer and easier to cross on foot.
A connection to the riverfront here is critical to completing the Vista, she said.
“You’ve got the wonderful State Museum and the wonderful EdVenture, and there’s not a friendly way to get there,” said Branham, who works with LS3T ASSOCIATES.
Smith is eager to see quality riverfront development that places a priority on public access to the water.
Specifically, she’s hoping the University of South Carolina will build a top-notch riverfront park – with fountains and big trees – as it continues its march to the Congaree. The county’s transportation sales-tax will provide the opening for a planned park by extending certain streets beyond Huger Street toward the river.
“I love that idea,” said the painter also known for her assemblages. “In Charleston, when they developed the waterfront park, they put in two big fountains. They became destinations,” places to visit and play.
“We keep calling ourselves Famously Hot. We can cool down with some fountains.”
Stephen Chesley – The Palmetto Compress warehouse, a historical icon where bales of cotton were “compressed” and stored before being moved to textile mills. The building, one of just four cotton warehouses in the Southeast, represents a way of life that’s gone.
Kirkland Smith – Memorial Park is a hidden gem. It doesn’t attract the crowds and attention that Finlay Park does, but is a quiet oasis in the middle of the Vista. Memorials, statues, a bridge
Scott Garvin – Lincoln Street’s covered walkway, which sheltered rail passengers, and its brick pavers, both symbols of what the Vista used to be. Mary Beth Sims Branham picked the canopy, too: “I have a lot of fond memories, waiting right there on the train.”
Tripp Riley – Adluh Flour Co., with its red neon sign on top. It’s unusual to have a mill in an urban center, so it’s a natural focal point.