Bank vaults, marble columns to be look of luxury in Columbia’s new Land Bank Apartments

sellis@thestate.comJune 18, 2014 

COLUMBIA, SC Exposed metal bank vault doors. Sixteen-foot ceilings. Eighty-year-old marble columns. Original wooden flooring. French doors opening to Hampton Street. Personal terraces overlooking Marion Street. An iconic piece of public art.

This is what “luxury urban” residences will look like in the planned Land Bank Apartments in the former AgFirst Farm Credit Bank Building in downtown Columbia.

The building, which for eight decades housed the offices that provided long-term credit to farmers in the South, and for nearly 40 years has been home to Columbia artist Blue Sky’s landmark “Tunnelvision” mural – will by next summer house nearly 150 people joining a boom of residents expected to fill downtown in coming months and years.

At a time when an influx of student housing developments are flooding the downtown market, this one’s for the grownups, the developers said, catering especially to young professionals wanting to live and work in the city center.

With its limestone and granite facade, jutted green awning and marble foyer, the building reminds the developers of one that might be seen on Fifth Avenue in New York City, said John Glassell, one of the partners of Memphis-based Heritage Land and Development, which purchased the building for $3.8 million in April.

“All we need is a doorman,” he joked.

Each unit in the building will be different from the others, with its own unique features and layout. They’ll each have ceilings ranging from 10 to 16 feet with the building’s original moldings, and many will overlook the tree-lined streetscapes of Marion and Hampton streets.

“By the very nature of the existing building, every apartment is different,” Glassell said. “Some of them, you get a vault door. Some of them, you get a marble column. Take your pick.”

Construction should begin in September on the estimated $17 million project that will renovate the historic building at 1401 Hampton Street into 114 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“Tunnelvision” will remain intact, the developers said, as will many of the building’s historic features, including its lobby, original Otis elevators, coffer ceilings and moldings.

“It’s certainly going to be a different type of apartment complex than your average stick-and-brick building in the ‘burbs,” development partner William Yandell said.

Private, secure-access parking will be located behind the building, as will a pool and outdoor social area, the developers said.

Leasing rates haven’t been decided yet, but Yandell said they will be comparable with market rents.

Two outparcel buildings on the property could be developed in the future to bring retail and office space to the block, the developers said.

Heritage Land and Development has sought out historic buildings in cities with vibrant and growing downtowns, Yandell said.

The group has renovated the historic, three-story Cotton Council Building in Memphis, which opened in 2012 as apartments for nearby college students. And the partners are now in the process of rehabilitating the 10-story First National Bank Building in downtown Tuscaloosa, Ala., which will open with 100 one- and two-bedroom apartments this fall.

“Once we bought that building, it generated a hell of a lot of excitement, and that area of Tuscaloosa is really ‘Main and Main’ now,” Glassell said. “It has changed the center of (downtown).”

Preserving and retrofitting old buildings is more of a challenge and expense compared with building from scratch, Yandell said. But the developers will benefit from a Richland County tax break for historic buildings.

The city Planning and Design/Development Review commissions have recommended the building be designated as a Group II Landmark, which recognizes sites that have contributed to local history and have not been heavily altered since construction.

The Land Bank Apartments join a recent surge in urban residential development that has been part of Columbia’s ongoing downtown revitalization.

“To have people living downtown adds to that 24-hour life cycle,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “It means that Columbia is growing into a city that attracts people to its urban core and keeps people here.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

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