The cities of Columbia and West Columbia have landed a $1 million federal grant to study pollution problems at some of the area's prime development sites.
The American Recovery and Re-investment Act grant - federal stimulus money - would help pay the cost of a cleanup study on a particular site for a potential developer.
That saves a would-be buyer the cost of the study and removes any mystery about what - if anything - might be polluting a site. Sometimes, that uncertainty alone keeps buyers away, said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp.
"We want to determine what the environmental issues are, try to solve those environmental issues and get these properties to the point that some kind of development can occur there," he said. "Private investment - and jobs - will follow this."
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The two cities are looking at up to 17 potential sites.
Among West Columbia's priorities are:
- The four-acre former Colite sign plant site on 12th Street, between Jarvis Klapman Boulevard and U.S. 1. City officials would like to see some mix of commercial development and, perhaps, light industrial use at the site, said Donna Smith, West Columbia's economic development director.
- "The Pit," a large tract that runs from State Street to Alexander Road along Meeting Street, near the Congaree River. A plan for a retail-office-hotel development at the site was put on hold when the economy tanked.
Columbia is considering grants for:
- The USC Innovation Center on Assembly Street, near Whaley Street. The large business incubator is being established in an old warehouse by the S.C. Research Authority.
- The Taylor Street garage, at Taylor and Sumter streets. The garage is intended to provide much-needed parking for Main Street businesses and to help stem the parking challenges at the Palmetto Center building on Main Street, recently vacated by SCANA.
The federal money would pay for studies of pollution problems, not cleanups, said Brian Kvam, of Columbia's Concurrent Technologies Corp., which is managing the grant for the cities.
"After this, we can go after cleanup funds," said Kvam, whose company also handles similar grants for cities in five other Southeastern states.
The firm is being used because "it's federal money and there is a lot of technical paperwork that we cannot do," Columbia Development's Delk said.
Six Columbia-area firms that specialize in the work will conduct the environmental studies.
"So the stimulus money stays here," Delk said. "The bulk of that money - maybe $750,000 - would go to those local firms."
West Columbia's Smith said only a property owner who did not cause the pollution or a potential buyer can apply for the money, so the 17 or so properties identified so far might not be the ones that finally get the grants.
"If you bought an old gas station and haven't been able to (sell) it because of fear of environmental problems, this could help you," Smith said.
Delk said most of the 17 sites are small, including former gas stations.
This is the third such grant Columbia has received from the Environmental Protection Agency. It was awarded $300,000 in 2000 and $400,000 in 2006.
The latest, $1 million grant was awarded because the two cities joined together as a "coalition" to tap special stimulus money, Delk said.
Previous grants were used to help projects that included:
- The CanalSide residential development on the old CCI prison site
- EdVenture Children's Museum
- The Columbia Supply site on Gervais Street in the Vista
- The Columbia College apartment-and-retail project in Eau Claire
- 701 Whaley, the former Olympia community center once threatened with demolition
Assisted by the $700,000 in federal grants, those projects attracted $64 million in capital investment and created 350 to 400 jobs, Delk said.
"The whole point is to get people to reinvest in these properties," he said.