Columbia developers offer to buy Palmetto Compress for hotel, commercial redevelopment

cleblanc@thestate.comOctober 14, 2013 

One of Columbia’s western gateways would have a 100-room hotel, high-end condos and commercial space in about two years if City Council accepts a proposed contract Tuesday for the sprawling Palmetto Compress building.

A new Columbia-based development group, Palmetto Compress Preservation Developers LLC, tentatively has agreed to buy the 320,000-square-foot, century-old, former cotton warehouse from the city.

A draft contract calls for the developers to pay the city $5,907,000, said Fred Delk, director of Columbia Development Corp., which negotiated the agreement.

The city bought the four-story warehouse and its 4.7-acre site in April for $5.65 million as part of an effort to protect the building from demolition. The city also paid for additional improvements to get the property ready to be sold.

“We’re going to make $100,000,” Delk said Monday of the deal put together with Vista businesswoman and preservationist Rosie Craig, who earlier this year insisted the building could be preserved and reused.

Craig said she hopes to have the property finished in two years. “That’s our intention.”

Craig said her plans are to have a roughly 100-room hotel, a handful of rooftop condominiums and a mixture of retail and office space along Blossom Street, near the University of South Carolina campus.

“I intend it to be another award-winning, preservationist rehab,” Craig said. “I don’t want to create something that looks modern.”

If Craig’s plan becomes reality, it would be a major victory for preservationists who fought loudly to protect the warehouse from being razed. The initial owners had said that, after spending 25 years trying to find a buyer, no would-be purchaser could come up with a financially feasible reuse of the structure.

Part of the agreement with Craig’s group is that they will seek to get a city landmark designation for the property. The warehouse is on the National List of Historic Places, but that alone does not prohibit its demolition.

City Council is scheduled to discuss the deal Tuesday during its 6 p.m. biweekly meeting. That meeting will be held at EdVenture Children’s Museum at Gervais Street, near the Congaree River.

Delk said the deal worked out between the Development Corp. and Craig calls for the new developers to reimburse the city $157,000 for improvements it has made at the property. In addition, ongoing utility and other maintenance costs will be picked up by Palmetto Compress Preservation Developers, Delk said.

An Oct. 10 memo to city manager Teresa Wilson outlines a recommendation from Delk’s Development Corp., an arm of the city’s economic-development efforts, that council assigned to find a company willing to develop the warehouse without demolishing it.

The Development Corp. recommended Craig’s newly organized development firm from among a half-dozen developers who expressed interest in buying the brick warehouse.

The city’s purchase of the building was controversial because it was financed by using a health-care fund for current and former city workers. That purchase also called for the city to pay for building improvements. Those expenses reached $157,000, according to Delk’s memo to the city manager.

The sale even ran into opposition at the city’s Development Corp. For the first time, the corporation’s board split when it agreed to become the city’s agent for marketing the warehouse.

Still, the board received six responses when it offered the property for sale, Delk wrote in the memo to Wilson.

The proposed deal with Palmetto Compress Preservation Developers calls for that group to deposit $10,000 once it signs a contract with the city and to pay $272,500 after it has completed its own inspection of the property.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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