Luxury student housing in Columbia opens doors

rburris@thestate.comOctober 4, 2013 

— When the Hub at Columbia opens its doors next year in the former SCANA high-rise downtown, the concept of college living will change forever – and so may Main Street.

Leasing began last month for the fully furnished apartments that will bring up to 848 students and young professionals to the redeveloping corridor when they open next fall. An open house was held Friday in the 21-story Palmetto Center as college students’ parents began streaming into town for Parents’ Weekend at the University of South Carolina.

But these are not your father’s college digs.

The $40 million project includes: a multi-level swimming pool, 60-person hot tub, fire pit, sand volley ball court and 20-foot outdoor LED TV screen – all situated on a city-owned garage rooftop. And that’s just the beginning. Think private steam rooms and music streaming into your shower.

“The amenities are the coolest part about the building,” Melissa Flath, Hub At Columbia leasing manager said. “All those amenities are kind of what set us apart.”

The Hub is part of roughly $200 million in new housing construction – nearly all of it aimed at college students, graduate students and young professionals – that is set to come online in Columbia by 2015.

The new housing projects combined will accommodate 2,500 of about 3,000 new beds student housing studies say downtown Columbia is ready to absorb, and also alter the USC campus’ and city’s skylines.

The projects stretch from Main Street – where a renaissance is under way involving retailers, restaurants and bars, and a strong influx of new banks – to the Innovista and Vista areas surrounding the USC campus, and on westward toward Huger Street and the riverfront.

Among them:

•  Park 7 Group will build a $60 million project with 600 beds at Huger and Blossom streets to be completed in August 2014.

•  USC and a private partner plan a $35 million project involving a 500-bed dorm combined with classroom space near the Colonial Life Arena with completion in July 2015.

•  Pulaski Square is a $15 million, 249-bed project on Pendleton Street near the Amtrak station, with completion planned by August 2014.

“It’s going to bring a tremendous number of new people living downtown,” said Fred Delk, Columbia Development Corp. executive director. “We have been talking for a long time about how we needed to create more residential opportunities downtown.

“So, it seems like over the next several years we may double the downtown population. That’s just a good thing. I am really excited about it.”

Chicago-based Core Management, a student housing developer and management company, owns Hub At Columbia, and says it had eyed Columbia and USC for quite a while, believing both had growth in their near futures.

The company’s market strategy is to go into a city and build luxury student apartments near a college campus. Hub At Columbia timed its open house to coincide with USC’s Parents Weekend when nearly 10,000 people – that is almost 3,000 families from 40 states and three foreign countries – were expected at the university for the weekend.

Last year, Core Management opened student housing developments in Tempe, Ariz., near Arizona State and in Oxford, Miss., near Ole Miss University. Concurrently with the housing development under way in Columbia, Core also is developing a new luxury complex in Tucson, near the University of Arizona, Flath said.

The company is advertising to college students presently, but plans to also target young professionals and acquire corporate leases, Flath said. Anyone who qualifies through the application process will be offered a lease, Flath said.

“Actually, we’ve gotten really good response from everyone,” she said. “I want to make sure everyone knows this is not a dorm: it’s an apartment complex – and a really nice apartment complex. It just happens to be located next to a university.”

Hub At Columbia is distinguished from Core’s other complexes in that it is located in the city’s downtown district.

“We have the unique opportunity to be able to lease to both (students and young professionals) and it’s ideal for both,” Flath said. “There is so much business here (downtown), we felt it would be right for us to lease to both,” Flath said.

Built in the 1980s and vacant since 2009, the Palmetto Center at 1426 Main St., was purchased by Core in 2011, and led Columbia’s post-recession wave of new student housing downtown, on and near the USC campus.

“It’s basically a full gut,” said Flath. “We took out everything in all the floors and are remodeling the entire thing.”

There will be 20 floors of rooms and suites of rooms ranging from 1-bedroom to 5-bedroom apartments, Flath said. All rooms come fully furnished, with both shared and private baths and will be individually leased. “That’s real good for young groups, (whether) they’re in school or not in school, they still probably have roommates,” Flath said. “With our leases, roommates don’t get stuck with somebody else’s expenses.”

The top two floors of the Palmetto Center – the VIP and Spa – are the most expensive.

The 19th floor Spa level offers all private amenities, such as a private steam room, custom tile and back splashes in the kitchens and bathrooms and blue-tooth shower heads, which allows one to hear music via cellphone hook up during the shower.

The 20th floor VIP level features 12 units that all have either a hot tub or pool table, the blue-tooth showers and a smart TV. VIP and Spa prices range from $565 per room for a four-bedroom unit to $1,020 for a one-bedroom unit. The remainder of units rent from $520 to $1,005 per bedroom.

A spokesperson for SCANA, which left the Palmetto Center in 2009 and relocated to Cayce, said company officials are happy the old building is getting new tenants.

“That’s definitely an interesting conversion in the middle of downtown,” Delk said.

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