May 28, 2014

Student housing deal in Columbia’s Vista finalized

Project on former Arnold family land will house 640 students, open in spring of 2016.

Construction will start this summer on Columbia’s newest student housing project, expected to bring 640 students to a key downtown intersection.

Park 7 Group has finalized its purchase of four acres of a vacant lot at the corner of Blossom and Huger streets, according to CBRE|Columbia, which brokered the deal.

The company plans to build a 237-unit, five-story apartment complex. It is expected to open in the spring of 2016 and will include an attached parking garage, as well as a swimming pool, fitness center and other amenities.

Developers originally wanted to open the complex in the fall of 2015, but delayed the opening by about six months. Several other complexes also are planned for the area, opening at various times between this fall and fall of 2016.

“Staggered is probably better for the market, not to bring all those units on at the same time,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp. “It’s really positive.”

The property, located at a gateway intersection to the city and the University of South Carolina, has been owned by Arnold Family Real Estate for more than 50 years.

The city’s design board gave approval for the project in March. It was the third time that developer Ben Arnold had brought a plan for student housing at the site before the city board. The city’s zoning appeals board also in March granted the project a special exception to allow the complex to have 640 beds, 10 more per acre than the 600 that the district allows. In April, the city approved a controversial 50 percent tax break for 10 years for such student housing developments.

Among downtown student housing projects opening during the next two years – not all of which qualify for the tax break – are:

•  The Hub, opening in August with 850 beds in the 21-story former Palmetto Center along Main Street, once the corporate headquarters of SCANA
•  An 878-bed project being built by the University of South Carolina and Holder Properties behind the Carolina Coliseum. Part of it is opening in fall 2015, and part is opening in fall 2016.
•  An Edwards Communities development with 700 beds flanking the Palmetto Compress warehouse. It’s unclear when that project will open.

These projects, among others, will push the downtown core’s population to 5,000 from 1,500 over a three-year period, Delk said. “That is just kind of amazing that we’re having that kind of a shift in the downtown so quickly.”

The influx – particularly of students – presents both opportunities and challenges, he said.

“It’s 90 percent opportunities, 10 percent challenges,” he said. “People on the ground, walking around, creating activity, spending money -- that is what makes a community great.”

The biggest challenge, he said, is the connectivity issue. Wide streets that are main thoroughfares, including Huger and Assembly streets, make it difficult to connect Main Street with the Vista and the Vista with the riverfront, he said.

As development continues, “That is what we need to be working on right now,” Delk said.

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