June 27, 2014

Mixed-use redevelopment could be coming for Gervais St. furniture, antique stores

A set of 19th century warehouse buildings in the Vista could get a facelift and join the growing number of restaurant, retail, office and residential spaces downtown.

A local architect and developer who has rehabilitated a number of historic properties in Columbia wants to purchase the buildings housing Carolina Imports furniture store and City Market Antiques Mall on Gervais Street.

Scott Garvin’s vision for the four buildings set on nearly an acre includes street-facing patio areas, one- and two-bedroom apartments, restaurants, retail space and maybe a microbrewery, according to renderings obtained by The State. He is seeking a variance to parking requirements and design approval from the city Board of Zoning Appeals and Design/Development Review Commission at their July meetings.

The potential sale and redevelopment is long-awaited and encouraging news for a property that has unique development challenges, said Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corp.

“This is one of those buildings that is, to me, a really key property for creative redevelopment of the neighborhood,” Delk said. “And it is one that I have been worried about for a very long time.”

Located in the West Gervais Street design preservation district, the property at 705, 707 and 711 Gervais St. comes with development restrictions from the city, such as preserving the main portions of the structures. But a new owner would benefit from the tradeoff of tax breaks for following preservation guidelines.

The property – four buildings and a parking lot – is listed for sale at $1.65 million, said Columbia Realtor Hance Jones, who is marketing the property.

The eventual cost of the sale and the time frame for development if the sale goes through are not yet known. Efforts to reach Garvin were unsuccessful Friday.

The owners of Carolina Imports and City Market have tried to sell the property for several years. Two or three contracts have already fallen through, said Pam Harpootlian, who owns Carolina Imports, because the restrictions on the historic property make it difficult for just anyone to develop.

Harpootlian and Dottie Jordan, who owns City Market, purchased the property at 705, 707 and 711 Gervais St. in the late 1980s after renting the buildings for about a decade. They’d both like to retire soon, Harpootlian said, and that’s why they’ve been trying to sell the property.

“The timing is just right for us to sell it,” said Harpootlian, whose Carolina Imports has occupied 705 Gervais St. since 2010. “I’m 63, and this business is very physically demanding. ... As long as we have a mortgage on the property, this business needs to keep going.”

Harpootlian and Delk said they believe Garvin is well-suited to take on the challenge of redeveloping the buildings.

Garvin is responsible for rehabilitating numerous historic Columbia properties, including the Olympia and Granby Mills apartments on Heyward Street, Mast General Store in the old Efird’s Department Store building on Main Street and the Women’s Quad renovations and additions at the University of South Carolina.

Garvin’s vision for the Gervais Street property is very much in line with the city’s desire to see contemporary uses for historic properties downtown, Delk said.

“Most people don’t have the vision to be able to walk into a property like this and say, ‘Wow, we can do this,’” Delk said. “This is exactly the kind of development we’re looking for in the area.”

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