Columbia downtown art center shifting focus

03/26/2014 8:52 PM

03/26/2014 8:53 PM

Columbia businessman Tom Prioreschi is taking over operation of the Tapp’s Art Center with the intent of keeping its art studio environment but attracting more events such as weddings and musical performances, the building’s property manager said Wednesday.

The Tapp’s center went before a city loan committee to have the paperwork on a controversial $200,000 loan updated to replace Real World Artisans with Mainstream V Lofts LLC, a Prioreschi company. He owns 47 apartments on six upper floors above the studio arts center in what had been for years a downtown department store at Main and Blanding streets.

“They want to remove the previous management and put new management in,” the city’s director of the Office of Business Opportunities told the committee.

The change does not affect the terms of the interest-free August 2011 loan that deferred the first payment for three years until August 2014, a city loan officer said. Loan officer Paul Featheringill, who works in the Office of Business Opportunities, said his office is seeking legal advice to determine if the change requires new paperwork or simply a name change on the original documents.

“The concept is going to be almost identical,” said Kay Hampton of Capitol Places, which manages Prioreschi’s properties in Columbia. “The community should not see a change.” The official switchover is set for April 1, she said.

The current operator of the 22,000-square-foot center, Brenda Schwarz, started the business with a separate $175,000 loan from Prioreschi, Schwarz said at the time. She focused on the artistic theme, but learned that using the location for weddings and other events is more profitable, Hampton said. The center has a 200-seat venue room, which makes it suitable for musical acts and other community events, Hampton said.

Currently, the center houses 35 art studios – eight on the street-level floor and 27 in the basement, she said. The basement once held a popular lunch counter that attracted more than Tapp’s shoppers.

Studio space will remain the focus under Prioreschi’s management, Hampton said. But the center is reaching out to upgrade its partnerships with the Indie Grits Festival and the University of South Carolina, among others. Several USC professors use the center to display their photography, but Prioreschi is interested in partnering, too, with McKissick Library on the Horseshoe, Hampton said.

The city granted the $200,000 loan to Schwarz using city money, Featheringill said. Loan payments of $1,389 are to begin in August and have a 15-year term, he said. Prioreschi used the Tapp’s building as collateral for the loan, Featheringill said.

The Tapp’s center loan is the largest of Columbia’s active commercial loans that are financed through city money rather than federal funds. In 2011, the Commercial Revolving Loan Committee granted the $200,000 loan in a narrow, 4-3 vote, amid complaints that city staffers sat on the committee and that such a loan shouldn’t have gone to allow a private business to compete with others.

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