A Columbia developer is moving ahead with plans to build a 2,400-niche columbarium on Bluff Road across from Williams-Brice Stadium.
The concept is to allow die-hard Gamecock fans to have their ashes placed for eternity in the shadow of USC’s football stadium.
Developer Whit Suber, who purchased the small parcel last week for $850,000, has approval from city planners to build a traditional, cemetery-type columbarium. He said he is trying to negotiate with the University of South Carolina to use some property the school owns to build a structure that spells out “U-S-C.”
But USC spokesman Wes Hickman said he was not aware of any negotiations.
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“We do not believe that is an appropriate use of this tiny parcel of land,” Hickman said. “Several individuals from the university have met with Mr. Suber and conveyed that message.”
Suber believes the project is appropriate because of the strong loyalty of Gamecock fans.
“We’re like the Chicago Cubs of college football,” said the 1992 USC graduate, referring to the professional baseball team’s fans who stayed loyal despite an epic championship drought that ended last year. “I think this is an appropriate manifestation of Gamecock pride, loyalty and dedication.”
Suber said many colleges have columbariums on campus for alumni, including Notre Dame, Virginia and The Citadel. “But putting it next to a football stadium is a new concept.”
The sliver of property is an old railroad easement in the former farmer’s market property, which is now a university-owned game-day parking and entertainment area called Gamecock Park. The parcel had been envisioned years ago as a site for Cockabooses – railroad cars turned into game-day party pads – but the plan never materialized.
Suber said he has a building easement for some of the adjacent university-owned property that would allow him to build the larger “U-S-C” design; but, as yet the university officials have not given their approval. He can build the columbarium without USC’s approval, Suber said, but doesn’t want to step on toes or get in a legal tussle.
“We can start tomorrow if we build the less inspired design,” he said. “It’s very attractive and uses the highest quality materials I can get. But I want to make sure it’s as appropriate as it can be, and I put tremendous emphasis on giving the university input on placement and design.”
The smaller, rectangular design would have 2,400 niches and cost about $1.6 million to build, he said. The larger “U-S-C” design would cost about $2.3 million.
Suber said cremation is becoming more popular because of the expense of burials and because urban cemeteries and graveyards are filling up.
When asked how he would respond to people who might think the idea is tacky, Suber said, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for that concern and we are doing everything we can to remedy that worry.”