April 7, 2014

Parking costs for students could soar following lot closure

The University of South Carolina on Monday permanently closed a popular 450-car parking lot behind the Carolina Coliseum to make way for a new student housing project.

The University of South Carolina on Monday permanently closed a popular 450-car parking lot behind the Carolina Coliseum to make way for a new student housing project.

Students who pay up to $60 a semester to park in the lot at Park Street and Blossom Street can use their decals to park in the Discovery parking garage at the same price for the rest of the semester. But they could face significant increases in parking fees next semester. The garage, located a block away from what had been called “Lot C,” normally costs $340 per semester – a 467 percent increase from current surface lot rates.

Students soon will either have to pay the higher prices to park or find alternative lots, which will become increasingly difficult as the university grows toward the Congaree River and phases out much of the surface parking in the area.

“Construction will begin imminently” on the student housing project, USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said. “There should be plenty of spaces for those who park in Discovery now and those who are being redirected as a result of that lot shutting down.”

Workers on Monday were measuring the lot in preparation for the launch of construction on the $94.6 million, 878-bed apartment complex. It is set to open in fall 2015, and would compete with new student apartments that have cropped up on Bluff and Shop roads in recent years and new private student housing in downtown Columbia.

The new apartments, geared for upperclassmen, are expected to include resort-type amenities offered at the other private complexes, such as a pool and fitness center along with some retail. The complex will include 689 parking spaces.

Demand for student housing has grown as USC has increased its enrollment in recent years to counter drops in state funding. Less than a third of the school’s 24,000 undergraduate students live on campus.

Four more apartment projects with more than 1,600 beds also are planned within blocks of the coliseum.

In addition to the lot that closed Monday, a second, adjacent lot of about the same size on Park Street already is partially closed for a staging area for construction of the new Moore School of Business. That lot will be permanently closed in August for a second phase of the student housing project, which will include classroom and dining space and the parking garage.

Also, parking on Assembly Street between Blossom and Pendleton streets was eliminated during a recent streetscaping project to make it safer for students to cross the busy, four-lane thoroughfare.

Some, particularly students and patrons of the nearby Colonial Life Arena and Colonial Center, complain that eliminating the lot will make the walk to classes and events longer and parking more expensive. But downtown boosters said the influx of new residents will help lure new stores to the area and will support bars and restaurants.

“The great thing about that is that will be nearly 900 new people living downtown,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., which encourages and guides development in the Vista and other areas of downtown. “We’re going to get more traffic on the street and a lot more retail to support that. It’s all a positive.”

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