About a dozen art galleries and retailers will stay open Thursday night as the Vista kicks off a new event, called Third Thursdays, aimed at breathing life into downtown Columbia on a weeknight.
It’s a familiar scene. Main Street retailer Mark Plessinger started a similar event held on the first Thursday of each month about five years ago.
City developers say such activities are necessary for a growing city to thrive and hope the two events will complement each other.
“It is a signal of a growing city and kind of a realization that Main Street and the Vista are sort of joined at the hip to create a vibrant downtown Columbia,” said Matt Kennell, president and chief executive of the City Center Partnership, which promotes growth in the urban core. “We’re finding more and more that connectivity is the word of the day.”
Working together to promote the downtown will become even more important as the area goes through revitalization:
• The Vista is in the middle of a nearly $390 million investment boom, with five student housing projects planned and two University of South Carolina projects – the new Moore School of Business and the new Alumni Center – under construction. The area also is attracting new retail, such as Urban Outfitters and Entourage clothing stores.
Main Street has been a magnet for numerous new residences, retail shops and business offices in the past three years since Mast General Store opened. With Hub at Columbia poised to open this fall, another 800 students and young professionals are expected to take up residence on Main Street.
That growth makes cooperation between the two areas vital, Kennell said. “We just need to all promote each other.”
The new event in the Vista is designed to give people options, said Sarah Lewis, executive director of the Congaree Vista Guild.
“Some professionals just can’t get away during the workday,” she said.
In addition to the already popular nighttime dining options in the Vista, this event allows them to peruse shops and art galleries after work once a month, she said.
The event also gives the area an opportunity monthly to showcase what it offers to folks visiting Columbia through events with the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, many of whom stay in hotels around the Vista, Lewis said.
While the guild won’t close streets for Third Thursdays, organizers do plan to bring in music and street performers to “dress up the atmosphere” as the event grows, she said. “It’s something we have been talking about for quite a while.”
Many downtowns in the Southeast, including Raleigh and Charleston, have started similar events, Lewis said: “We want to offer that (too). … It’s part of being an urban area.”
Between First Thursdays on Main and Third Thursdays in the Vista, folks will have options at least twice a month for late-night shopping and art crawls.
“Maybe someday every Thursday night we’ll have something to do,” the City Center Partnership’s Kennel said. “We’re halfway there.”
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