West Columbia is making a pitch to attract new businesses and more pedestrians to its River District along State and Meeting streets, and city officials think craft beer might be part of the solution.
The city council recently added artisan manufacturing as a permitted use in commercial districts citywide, and the change might have its greatest effect around the eastern gateway of West Columbia at the foot of the Gervais Street Bridge.
City leaders changed the local law so artisan-type manufacturing – generally defined as specialized manufacturing with minimal automation and a small number of workers – can occur in commercial districts. The city wants the manufacturing to be linked with retail outlets, presenting a shopping, dining and arts experience they hope will not only lure more small businesses to West Columbia, but also more patrons.
Under the new law, craft beer can now be manufactured in the city’s commercial districts, such as State Street, Meeting Street and Triangle City.
State Street presents a highly visible district of historic buildings that city leaders say are well-suited for micro-breweries and craft beer-making. Meeting Street offers buildings where products can be served and sold in front areas and be manufactured in ample rear spaces that also can accommodate parking.
The craft beer craze continues to grow in South Carolina and across the nation, statistics show. After catching on in the Palmetto State in 2013, craft breweries accounted for a $443 million economic impact in 2014, according to the South Carolina Brewers Association, and 3,350 jobs.
The state now has 40 breweries, and 10 more are in the planning stages, according a study produced by Colliers International, a commercial real estate broker. Increasingly, local towns and cities are changing their laws to make beer-making prosperous in their communities.
That’s especially true for cities and towns considered to be sub-markets of larger, neighboring cities, experts say.
“Obviously that’s a growing market and it’s not something that we have been able to accommodate in the past in West Columbia,” said Wayne Shuler, West Columbia planning and zoning director. Distilleries and breweries typically are manufacturing activities and are zoned as such, he said.
The only other craft brewery in Lexington County is in the town of Lexington – the Old Mill Brewpub.
But, before cities and towns could act to better accommodate craft breweries and micro-distilleries, state action was needed. In 2013, the “Pint Law” was passed, allowing breweries to sell customers up to 48 ounces of beer for consumption, instead of four 4-ounce samples.
Also, the “Stone Bill” was passed in 2013, allowing breweries to serve food. Since passage of the those two laws, the economic impact of the beer-making industry is up by $13.7 million in the Palmetto State, according to the Colliers International study, citing the South Carolina Brewers Guild.
The West Columbia law does not pertain only to breweries, said Anna Huffman, the city’s public information officer. Meeting Street, for example, has a small array of artisan manufacturers already in place, including a stained glassmaker, custom frame maker and an eyeglass maker. The artisan ordinance also includes jewelers and other craftsmen.
State Street features restaurants such as Cafe Strudel and 116 State Street. Meeting Street now features a food truck court, the result of another recently passed local law, Huffman said.
“Dining, shopping and arts” is the new slogan for new the River District, the name given to the State Street-Meeting Street area. It extends from the Congaree River up the hill to Triangle City.
“That’s the kind of fun feel that we want Meeting (Street) and State (Street) and downtown West Columbia to have – where you can park and walk to the food truck court, and then walk down the street and go shopping and buy some handmade glass and have a craft beer.”
The State Street-Meeting Street area is West Columbia’s original business district and economic hub dating back to the early 1900s, said Mayor Bobby Horton. Its historic structures make for good business locations today.
“It’s very exciting to see redevelopment of some buildings that are more than 100 years old,” Horton said. “The location is fantastic, you are 10 minutes from the State Capitol and you have the advantages of the Riverwalk and all the good things associated with it and the amphitheater.”
Financial factors already are helping drive new business to the West Columbia business district, Horton said. They include lower utility rates, lower taxes, good schools and lower lease and sales prices for commercial space and residential space.
Frame of Mind – a combination “optical boutique” and art gallery that sells fashion eyewear – recently moved from Main Street in Columbia to the River District in West Columbia. Also, the Army-Navy Store, formerly located on Columbia’s Main Street, is moving into a space in Capitol Square Shopping Center in the district.
The city is in final negotiations with developers of the Brookland project, a retail/condominium/office development on four vacant acres at the foot of the Gervais Street Bridge, Horton said. Groundbreaking could occur by late summer, he said.
New residents from that project and others, including a condominium unit under construction on the river shore next to Bridgepointe Condominiums, make the River District ripe for new additions such as craft breweries, Horton said. The new residents and businesses will encourage pedestrian traffic between shopping, living and dining.
However, fast-moving vehicle traffic at the State Street-Meeting Street intersection and the difficulties people have in crossing the streets in that area are barriers to pedestrian traffic, said Ed Albritton, owner of Ed’s Editions Used Book Store at the corner of State Street and Meeting Street.
“We’ve never had a lot of foot traffic in this location,” Albritton said. “The intersection is a major barrier for us – always has been. I’m really hoping that if they ever develop (the Brookland) over there, they will correct this intersection because that’s a problem.”
Albritton said he is in favor of the city’s move to increase traffic in the Meeting Street-State Street area.
West Columbia is not the only local “submarket” interested in attracting a craft brewery, according to local experts, though the city has attracted some inquiries since passing the new law in early April.
The city of Cayce is interested in attracting craft brewers in the Frink Street area, said Greg Pinner, president & CEO of the Cayce-West Columbia Greater Chamber of Commerce, and he commended the new leadership at city hall in West Columbia for recognizing the opportunity.
“I think they recognize with all the interest with the development down at the river, connecting the Riverwalk to State Street and even further down, just adds more to that entertainment district, somewhat like what the Vista is offering,” Pinner said. “This area has always been referred to as the West Vista, and now with the city’s leadership it is starting to happen.”
Brook Bristow, a Greenville lawyer who works with breweries in the permitting process, said he is not aware of any brewers currently looking to open in West Columbia. But he said the city is on the right track.
“It’s good to see West Columbia kind of in front of the curve,” said Bristow, who was in Philadelphia attending a brew conference on Friday.
Making state laws more favorable for craft breweries to open, operate and expand their businesses and create jobs has given way to a big need for changes at the municipal level, Bristow said.
Charleston and several other cities already have done that, Bristow said. “One of the main challenges brewers face these days is going to be finding property that’s suitable to run their businesses and in locations people feel comfortable accessing.”
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398