The thousands of people who drive down Gervais Street in the Vista each day might briefly glance at the three quaint storefronts in the 700 block. They may notice the signs advertising two new restaurants: Newk’s Eatery and Grill Marks.
But they probably don’t realize they are driving past a sprawling, 30,000-square-foot mixed-use complex that will be completed by the end of February. It will include the two restaurants, the city’s largest brewery, a coffee shop, a wine bar, two luxury apartments, 6,500 square feet of office and storage space, and a courtyard that can be used for outdoor events and parties.
It’s called City Market, after the antique mall and import shop by the same name that occupied the site from 1999 to 2014. Now the three old warehouses – built in the 1860s and 1880s – are free-standing structures brought back to their original 19th century design, with the addition of a modern Charleston-esque brick-paved courtyard and alleyway lined by covered outdoor seating.
“It’s an amazing project, but people are having trouble finding it,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., which encourages and guides investment in the Vista. “But once the parking opens and activity starts up, people will find it. It’s going to find its niche.
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“Every time I take people in there they are so surprised,” he said. “It’s a shocker.”
City Market is one of the most recent projects in what has been an unprecedented downtown development boom. The two restaurants are among eight new eateries that have opened in the Vista alone since the October floods.
That doesn’t include the renewed retail and residential energy on Main Street, steady expansion in Five Points and the promise of thousands of homes, offices and stores – including a minor league baseball park now under construction – on the 165-acre former State Hospital campus on Bull Street.
The new developments are being driven by a growing University of South Carolina student population and the large student housing projects – public and private – being built to capitalize on it. Those projects have added 3,500 students to downtown, which already had 4,000 non-students.
That will be augmented by predictions of a wave of young professionals and baby boomers drawn to the new energy, businesses, entertainment and housing opportunities downtown. One estimate said downtown’s population, including residents of the the four business and entertainment districts and their adjacent neighborhoods, could grow to 40,000 by 2030.
“The Vista is growing; I never knew so many people lived here,” said Steven Grigsby, who opened the Wired Goat coffee shop in City Market in October. “And this is a great space. It has the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of a great coffee shop.”
The three buildings were built after the Civil War when much of downtown Columbia burned to the ground. Although they look small from the street, the buildings are long, narrow, open warehouses built along now-departed railroads to house cotton and other freight or service trains.
In the 1950s, two of the buildings were joined, their facades destroyed, windows bricked up and the original red brick painted white for use as a office supply store. Most recently, they housed the antique mall and eclectic import shop.
For years, architects and developers looked at the buildings and considered them tear-downs.
But architect Scott Garvin saw things differently. His offices are in the Starbucks building on Gervais Street that he renovated in 2007.
He had worked with a Philadelphia developer to turn the old Granby and Olympia mills into apartments in 2006 and 2007. And he was the chief architect of renovating 701 Whaley – the old Olympia community center – in 2009 and 2010.
Today, in addition to City Market, he is in the process of converting the massive Palmetto Compress Warehouse on Greene Street into apartments, a project most experts said couldn’t be done.
But by leveraging local, state and federal tax credits and tax freezes for restoring historic buildings and abandoned warehouses, he has been able to convert what were once seen as relics into relevant and significant structures.
He and his five partners are pumping in $4.5 million into the project, the tenants another $3 million. What made the projects possible, among other incentives, is a state law that allows counties to freeze property taxes on the buildings at current levels for 20 years.
“These buildings scared a lot of people away,” Garvin said. But the new law made them guaranteed to work.
‘Brings the feeling”
To recognize the owners of the antique mall and import shop – Pam Harpootlian and Dottie Jordan – who kept the buildings alive for 15 years, he adopted the name City Market.
“I wanted to honor that,” he said.
Today two of the buildings are already open for business.
The newest, built in 1880 and located at 705 Gervais Street, now houses Grill Marks and the two luxury apartments. The project was briefly halted when workers found what were thought to be human bones in a crawl space.
Garvin thought it might be a Civil War soldier, or an unsolved murder. Turns out it was a horse.
“I overreacted,” Garvin said.
The middle building – built in 1872 at 709 Gervais – houses Newk’s Eatery and the Wired Goat. There is also space for the Wired Goat to open a wine bar in the basement, a space that Garvin at first didn’t know existed because it had been completely covered years ago.
“It was one of the surprises,” he said. “There are always surprises with projects like this.”
The third and oldest building, built in 1868 at 711 Gervais St., is still under construction. It will host the Twisted Spur microbrewery and restaurant, with office and storage space in the back.
In the courtyard, “we can bring in bands or have parties,” Garvin said. “We just move the cars out.”
The inside of the buildings features the original red brick walls, historically accurate windows and the wide-open floor plan and curved ceilings that are typical of Columbia’s old warehouse district.
For Grill Marks manager Mike Coral, the look was as important as the location.
“It shows the history of Columbia,” he said Friday morning as employees prepped the large bar, prepared the dining room and put out tables on the wide, covered front porch. “It really brings that feeling.”
The City Market will have:
▪ Three restaurants
▪ Two luxury apartments
▪ A large microbrewery
▪ Coffee shop
▪ Wine bar
▪ Decorative alley