COLUMBIA, SC — As the city, the developer and Olympia-area residents move closer to a long-delayed commercial center along Columbia’s Assembly Street, neighbors have shifted from outright opposition to wary optimism.
City Council has agreed to a May 8 deadline on completing a contract to sell the 5.6-acre Capital City Stadium for $1 million. The site would become part of a 23-acre center anchored by a 113,531-square-foot Kroger grocery store. It’s the fourth contract extension for Atlanta development company Bright-Meyers, which 2½ years ago eyed the site for an urban Walmart.
“The stars just may be aligning here,” said Bob Guild, president of the Granby Neighborhood Association and an environmental attorney. “We’re working with what we’ve got to work with. I know and fear there are worse things we could have constructed on this site.”
Guild said optimism will remain tempered until contracts are signed and detailed design plans approved by the city.
The flood control plan that Bright-Meyers offered two years ago and agreed to pay for will remain unchanged.
The primary changes from the Wal-Mart-anchored plan to the one offered in recent months by Bright-Meyers and Kroger include:
• The Kroger store will be 43,000 square feet larger.
• A three- to four-story student housing project will make the center a mixed-use location, which neighbors prefer.
• A ditch that runs through the site will be re-routed along the perimeter, converted into a greenway of sorts that will double as a pathway for pedestrians and bikers, tying the center more closely to the adjoining Olympia and Granby mill village neighborhoods.
• Surface parking areas will feature larger islands equipped with rain gardens and other environmentally friendly options so that rainwater will percolate into the soil and slow runoff into the already polluted Rocky Branch creek.
Matt Sasser, a Bright-Meyers executive who has work on the project from the outset, said Wednesday he hopes to break ground on the center by June 2015 and open it a year later.
Asked if he can meet council’s May 8 deadline to complete the sale, Sasser said, “I think we’re OK on that.” Some members of council had been growing weary of yet another contract extension.
Sasser would not provide details about the number of student apartments nor name retailers besides Kroger that might open their doors.
But he said the apartments will have a two-story parking garage, with one level likely below ground level. The architecture of the center will be in keeping with the neighborhoods’ textile mill heritage, Sasser and Columbia Planning and Development director Krista Hampton said.
Sasser said Bright-Meyers is not backing away from its offer to spend about $1 million on an off-site flood control plan that calls for opening three choke points along the nearby Rocky Branch. Opening those locations will help with flooding by allowing water to flow more rapidly to the Congaree River, he has said.
He and Guild said the compromise came together after the developer, city staffers and neighborhood leaders met face-to-face starting late last year.
To meet the May deadline, council must cast its first vote on the final contracts by its April 22 meeting. A final decision would occur at the May 6 meeting, Hampton said.
The tenuous compromise might avoid any more fighting.
“Bright-Meyers and Kroger know that if the community was going to dig its heels in, we were going to have a bloodletting,” Guild said.