July 30, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: North Main Street project could push development boom north of downtown Columbia core

Columbia’s multi-unit residential development boom could begin spilling north of the downtown core with a project featuring 100 or more living units planned for North Main Street.

Columbia’s multi-unit residential development boom could begin spilling north of the downtown core with a project featuring 100 or more living units planned for North Main Street.

Designed by Orlando architect and developer Brian Ray of Ray Design Development, the five-story Main Street Flats could be developed as either apartments or condominiums, Ray said.

The complex is planned for a 11/2-acre site at the northeast corner of North Main Street and Confederate Avenue, abutting the Cottontown/Bellvue Historic District. The site is about three blocks north of Elmwood Avenue and is just south of River Drive.

The city has been pushing for development on this part of Main Street north of Elmwood, repaving and landscaping the street, adding new lighting and traffic lights and burying the power lines.

Ray described the location as “a community on the upswing.”

“I believe Columbia is a city that’s really on the rise,” he said. “Five or 10 years from now, it’s going to look tremendously different than it does now.”

The project will go before the city’s Design/Development Review Commission for site plan approval in two weeks.

Construction on the project would begin no sooner than nine months from now, and residents could possibly move in within the next two years, Ray said. Depending on the mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom or three-bedroom units, the building could house between 100 and 123 units catering to professionals wanting to live near downtown, he said.

Development costs and a price range for units have not yet been determined, Ray said.

The land includes two parcels under contract by Ray, one owned by Stop N Save Inc. and the other, since 2005, by 2510 North Main Street LLC.

Ray said he plans to either sell the project concept and the land to another developer or to partner with another development group as a joint venture. He has been in talks with an instate developer outside of Columbia to consider working together on the project, he said.

The building has an urban-feel design, calling for brick, synthetic wood paneling, stucco and metal accents. The design doesn’t necessarily match that of the surrounding neighborhoods, which includes bungalow-style, single-family homes from the early- and mid-20th century in the historic Cottontown/Bellvue and Earlewood neighborhoods.

Residents of Cottontown/Bellvue are excited about new development in their community but insist that it coexist with the historic character of the neighborhood.

“It just brings life back to a quarter that’s abandoned buildings,” said Paul Bouknight, president of the Cottontown/Bellvue Historic District Neighborhood Association. “The more people you have, the more likely you are to get some development.”

Bouknight said Cottontown/Bellvue residents oppose any zoning variances that would allow the development to get around the landscape buffer and parking ratio requirements, which the design does not currently meet. They fear any variances would allow parking to creep into their neighborhood and negatively impact its character, he said.

City Councilman Sam Davis, who represents the Cottontown/Belvue Historic District, said he shares both the excitement and concerns of the neighborhood residents.

“If it comes to fruition, it will be a real economic shot in the arm for that part of North Main,” Davis said of the project. “It would be consistent with what we’re trying to make happen all along the corridor. ... (If) they meet all the requirements, it will be a genuine plus for development, which we know is coming.”

It’s not surprising to see this sort of development making its way north of the downtown core, said Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corp., which encourages development in the city core.

The Main Street Flats join a number of recently announced multi-unit, non-student residential projects planned for downtown, including:

• A 280-unit apartment complex and mixed-use development planned at Huger and Gervais streets at the former Kline Iron and Steel Co. site
•  A handful of one- and two-bedroom loft units as part of a planned Scott Garvin mixed-use development at the current site of Carolina Imports furniture store and City Market Antiques Mall along Gervais Street in the Vista.
• 100 one- and two-bedroom apartments planned in the former AgFirst Farm Credit Bank Building at Hampton and Marion streets

With the combination of residential developments aimed at both professionals and students, Delk previously has said he expects Columbia’s downtown population to swell from about 1,300 to an estimated 5,000 in the next five years.

Ray, who has done design work or developed projects in Florida, Colorado and Tennessee, said his Columbia project is “bringing what the city wants” to the area.

“I think what you’re going to find is this will be the first of the projects on (this part of) Main Street to get the ball rolling,” he said.


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