City of Columbia officials want to know how a Chicago company plans to keep 850 tenants safe downtown before they green light a possible $80 million plan to convert the former SCE&G building on Main Street to private dormitories.
They also want to know more about the impact on traffic and pedestrian safety if the project brings an expected 639 cars and bicycles downtown.
Core Campus LLC will attempt over the next 30 days to reassure city officials that their plan for the Palmetto Center is safe for students and those working and living around Main Street. The company on Tuesday delayed its four-month-old request to the city Board of Zoning Appeals for a population density exception for the vacant, 21-story building while it works on a firmer safety plan to submit to the board. The request could be heard at next month’s meeting.
Core Campus plans to convert by the fall of 2013 the Palmetto Center into a 258-unit private dorm with 851 beds. The number of bedrooms per unit would range from 1 to 5, according to Tom Harrington, project applicant for the renovation and conversion. The company needs a special exception from the city to include units with more than three bedrooms. It would be called The Hub on Main Street at Palmetto Center.
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“I support the idea of the project downtown. I support the idea of 800-plus consumers on Main Street,” said board chairman Ernest Cromartie, who said it would have a positive economic impact on restaurants and other businesses downtown and in the Vista. “I support the novel re-use of a recurring building,” he said.
“The one thing that gives me pause, that gives me concern, is the issue of safety. How (does) this project make sure 851-some-odd persons are safe? … I’m curious to know or see a plan,” Cromartie said.
Harrington told the board his company has a detailed safety plan for the project, but much of it has not been finalized because of ongoing contractual negotiations for the building and with the city of Columbia concerning parking issues and shuttle pick up and drop off locations, as well as joint security issues with the adjacent Marriott Hotel.
The Core Campus plans were the first of a wave of student housing plans to have come to light this year. An out-of-state developer is looking at developing private dorms around the Palmetto Compress building along Blossom Street, multiple sources have said. And Columbia developer Ben Arnold is looking to partner with a Charlotte developer on a student housing complex along Huger at Blossom streets. That project is expected to be reviewed by the city’s Design/Development Review Commission on Thursday.
Core Campus plans to renovate the Palmetto Center, which has been empty nearly three years since S.C. Electric & Gas pulled 900 employees out of the building when it built a new complex in Cayce. The company will retrofit 258 units with plumbing and other residential requirements. It also plans to convert basement space in the building into 88 parking spaces and 215 bicycle spaces. Another 338 spaces are to be available through contract in the 908-space city-owned Sumter Street garage attached to the building.
Core Campus’ plans for the garage include a resort-style amenity deck on a portion of the top floor to serve the residents, which would include a pool, hot tub, sand volleyball court, grills and other offerings. A large green screen will provide privacy to the patrons and downtown neighbors, according to the company.
Planned indoor amenities for the project include a fitness center, steam rooms, yoga, conference and club rooms, and a study lounge, among others, most of which are planned for the 11th floor of the building, city documents say. Retail space is planned for the street level.
Building access will be by electronic card, and security cameras are to be installed in all common areas of the building, with the garages getting upgraded lighting features, according to Core Campus. Harrington said nearly all the units will have window space and natural light and that part of the company’s normal construction practices include hardwood flooring and other amenities.
The company says it plans to staff the building with resident assistants for security 24 hours a day. But zoning board members raised questions about security plans for the garage areas.
Though 900 employees populated the building and were a downtown presence during SCANA’s tenure there, it will be totally different for a 24-hour-a-day operation that includes college-age students and possibly drinking and other activities, said board member Calhoun McMeekin II.
“In light of what’s going on in Five Points, I’ve got some serious safety concerns,” said McMeekin, who also said he supports the downtown dormitory concept. “How are these kids getting from garage to the door? I get you from the door – I think it’s amazing the security you provide once they hit the door. But it’s prior to that, if somebody is riding a bike from the library.”