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January 25, 2013

Meeting about painting proposal for downtown building gets testy

There were few signs Friday of kissing and making up by Valentine’s Day in the strained relationship between developers of Columbia’s first high-rise student housing on Main Street and the city’s aesthetics police.

There were few signs Friday of kissing and making up by Valentine’s Day in the strained relationship between developers of Columbia’s first high-rise student housing on Main Street and the city’s aesthetics police.

About 90 minutes of sometimes testy exchanges between Chicago-based Core Campus, its architects and Columbia’s Design/Development Review Commission yielded no solution.

The commission has set Feb. 14 as a date to review what more the developers are willing to do to the ribbed concrete exterior of the 21-story building that once housed the headquarters of utility giant SCANA Corp. The building has been empty for 3½ years since SCANA moved to Cayce.

In January, the commission approved converting the high-profile building into homes for some 800 college students, which will change the character of the city center. But the panel balked at a proposal by Antunovich Associates to paint the high-profile building caddy-corner from the Columbia Museum of Art with gray and white horizontal stripes accented with square, pastel-colored panels.

Developers want the structure to stand out and appeal to its young tenants.

Core Campus chief executive Ben Modleski called the paint job “really fantastic.”

At Friday’s meeting seeking a compromise, officials with Core Campus, its architects and the local contractor offered a new muted look using plasticized paint to cover some of the ribbed concrete exterior. That plan also would eliminate the scattered colored panels that drew especially sharp criticism.

Jeffrey Zelisko, a principal with the Chicago architectural firm, told a majority of the design commission that the Palmetto Center looks like an office building and its appearance is worn and tired.

“We’re trying to give it vitality that we feel it doesn’t have,” Zelisko said, explaining the toned-down option.

That was insufficient for some on the commission.

“You’ve been granted a legacy, a good piece of architecture here, and everything you propose diminishes it,” commissioner and Columbia architect Lesesne Monteith said. “To go in there and put paint on elegant material is really anathema to me.”

Monteith, the panel’s most outspoken critic, described the developer’s proposal as “tarting up” a valued structure in the heart of the city.

Commission chairman David Ross tried to steer the conversation toward a possible compromise and told the developers they might have more support next month from the full, nine-member commission.

Commissioners Betsy Kaemmerlen and Dale Marshall suggested alternatives that might win their votes for the exterior of the project, which has been valued at between $60 million and $80 million. Ben Angelo, Core Campus senior manager for development, on Friday declined to put a price on his company’s investment.

Kaemmerlen recommended that the company brand the building by cleaning the 30-year-old ribbed building and limiting the addition of color to the street level – which features retail space – and near the roof.

“You’re using that as your means to prevent a color change,” Angelo, of Core Campus, shot back.

But Zelisko told Kaemmerlen, “We’ll take a look at that.”

Marshall said the commission’s job revolves around enforcing aesthetics for the city. He said the color concession the developer has made is closer to an outcome he could support.

But he said he opposes allowing plasticized paint over a natural, textured surface because it would change the character of the building, which now matches the Marriott Hotel that it abuts.

“I do think that once we grant you permission to coat (paint) the building, we don’t have authority to tell you what color to use,” Marshall said.

Lee Mashburn, whose local company is doing the refurbishing, said, “I feel like this committee is trying to put its stamp (on the building). This is just typical of Columbia. You’re trying to put a stamp on something that doesn’t need a stamp.”

In an effort to ease stress in the room, Marshall said, “My gut is that you’re on the borderline of getting something (approved). “It’s not as far apart as you think.”

“Where do you get that opinion?” Mashburn asked.

After the meeting, a reporter asked Angelo whether his company will come up with a third proposal. “It’s undecided at this time what our approach will be,” the Core Campus executive said.

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