May 22, 2011

Main Street on the cusp of a new life

Main Street.

It’s the historic heart of the city. It’s the financial and political center of the state. It’s the region’s emerging arts district. And it has more opportunity for new retail, restaurants and clubs than any other district in the city.

And unless you live or work there, you probably haven’t visited it in years.

Perhaps you should.

With Mast General Store opening, a new Nickelodeon art house cinema, new restaurants and clubs, an emerging arts scene and almost monthly festivals, markets, tours and crawls, Main Street is becoming livelier than it has been since the department stores fled for the suburbs some three decades ago.

“We’ve got to pull people back to Main Street,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is making the kind of push to turn the street into a destination as his predecessor Bob Coble did for the nearby Vista.

City leaders have spent more than a decade and millions of dollars trying to revitalize Main Street, which has long been pegged as a retail destination.

But this year has brought a series of projects, programs and events that has sparked new life in the old shopping district.

Among them:

•  The North Carolina-based Mast General Store in the old Lourie’s building, which opens this week and promises to be a destination for shoppers and attract other retailers.

•  A new Nickelodeon art house theater and media center, being built in the former Fox Theater next to Lourie’s beginning in November, which would bring foot traffic to the street day and night and spur other arts activities in the area.

•  A new garage at Sumter and Taylor streets that will help ease the parking crunch.

•  A city program intended to help building owners improve their facades should make the area more attractive.

•  A dozen artists’ studios in the Arcade Mall and a proposal for an arts space in the Tapps Building.

•  New clubs and restaurants such as White Mule, Zoe’s and a Brazilian steakhouse.

•  And a string of newer festivals and events: First Thursdays, Wing Fling and the Urban Tour.

Benjamin even wants a jam-up New Year’s event. No word on whether that will include dropping the Big Chicken.

“There’s a lot going on in downtown Columbia,” Benjamin said. “We have a vibrant Vista and a vibrant Five Points and a great 27,000-student university.

“But we have to go on pushing the importance of having a vibrant Main Street. If you are going to have a great city — not a good city but a great city — you have to have a great urban core. And we have the makings of that here on Main Street.”

Interactive map: Main Street highlights, including videos produced by the Historic Columbia Foundation on some key architectural features
View Main Street in a larger map

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