Bluff Road area sees industrial resurgence

rburris@thestate.comSeptember 26, 2013 

— The sprawling warehouse district surrounding Williams-Brice Stadium east of downtown Columbia is getting new life as an industrial center after years of attracting gameday condos and student housing projects.

A longtime Columbia developer broke ground on a new, 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art industrial building on Key Road last week, only a couple of blocks from the Gamecocks’ home football field.

The nearly $2 million project may be the first new warehouse construction facility to be built in the Bluff Road area without a secured tenant in 30 years, according to industry experts.

A mile farther east on Bluff Road, a Minnesota-based company, Dayton Rogers Manufacturing, announced plans Thursday to open a 135,000-square-foot production facility on 6.5 acres in the Columbia Industrial Park.

The metal-stamping manufacturer said it will invest $11 million to establish operations in two buildings on the site, formerly occupied by QualServ, a custom kitchen equipment fabricator, and create 134 new jobs over the next five years.

Dayton Rogers expects to open operations in Columbia by the end of the year, said Ron Lowry, CEO and sole owner, and will begin hiring for the new positions in October (see readysc.org/daytonrogers/ for jobs).

For several years before the Great Recession, the vintage warehouse district was undergoing a transformation with the construction of hundreds of gameday condos and student housing apartments. Residential construction slowed during the recession.

The old State Fairgrounds recently underwent a transformation, too, and the longstanding State Farmers Market moved out to make room for the university to establish a new tailgating hot spot. Businesses, such as Waffle House and Dollar General, also moved into the area to serve new residents’ needs.

But the warehouse district – situated on a bluff above the rolling Congaree River – remained a sprawling inventory of mostly low-pitched, old-style warehouses adapted to modern uses.

The area has transformed into a space that accommodates the range of uses. And the new, modern warehouse is adding another dimension.

“This is the first speculative class A warehouse space that’s been built in the Bluff Road area market in several decades,” said Dick Stanland, an industrial broker in the area for 40 years who is directing the warehouse project for NAI Avant.

Class A warehouse space, with the higher ceilings necessary to accommodate the smaller pallets in use today, along with automated fire suppression systems, LED lighting and temperature control is in demand and expected today, Stanland said.

While there are millions of square feet of warehouse space in the district which stretches from Rosewood Drive east to I-77 along both Bluff and Shop roads, most of it is the less desirable class B and class C, Stanland said, because it has existed for so long. The area has one of the highest industrial vacancy rates – more than 15 percent – in Richland and Lexington counties, according to commercial developers.

Hired by Columbia developer Darnall “Donny” Boyd to produce and lease out the new warehouse, Stanland said the company initially envisioned the project back in 2006, before the housing bust and the ensuing recession. Building costs at the time made the undertaking too costly to turn a profit however, he said.

But Boyd, owner of Boyd Development Co., owns the Key Road property, Stanland said, and has been successful enough not to need outside financing for the project – two hurdles many developers could not overcome without a tenant already in hand.

The Columbia warehouse market as a whole has excess vacant space available, much of it unabsorbed for the past four years, said Nick Stomski, an NAI Avant broker and industrial specialists working with Stanland on the warehouse project.

But for customers who don’t want to move into older spaces with the lower ceilings and that lack sprinkler systems, “There is no solution in the Bluff Road area for that demand,” Stomski said.

“If you look anywhere around the county, this is the next growth area – I mean, it’s coming this way,” said Kelvin Washington, Richland County Council chairman, noting that other parts of the county are overgrown.

Industrial vacancy rates in the Midlands

Northeast Columbia: 20%

Southeast Columbia: 15%

North Columbia: 13%

St. Andrews: 11%

Forest Acres: 11%

Columbia: 8%

Cayce-West Columbia: 7%

Dutch Fork/Irmo: 6.4%

Lexington: 6.2%

Fairfield County: 20%

Kershaw County: 17%

SOURCE: CBRE|Columbia

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