A tower of apartments rising above the Lady Street parking garage in downtown Columbia will remain just a dream, for now.
But the city might yet see residents living above some of its public garages in coming years.
Two years ago, developer Hallmark Homes International Inc. unveiled an ambitious concept for what would have been one of the tallest buildings – if not the tallest – in South Carolina. More than 20 stories of apartments would have stood above the multi-story Lady Street parking garage in the Main Street district.
Hallmark acquired the air rights to that garage and five others owned by the city in 2015.
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But after exploring the possibilities at the Lady Street garage for the past two years, the developer decided it is not feasible at this time to build the apartments, according to Assistant City Manager Missy Gentry.
“It’s not ‘no,’” she said. “It’s ‘not right now.’ ”
Hallmark Homes International is led by local developer and investor Don Tomlin, who was behind the 1,679-acre Lake Carolina community in northeast Richland County and the Gibbes Green condos near the University of South Carolina.
Efforts by The State newspaper to reach Tomlin were unsuccessful.
Gentry said cost is the main inhibitor to building above the Lady Street garage. The apartment tower probably wouldn’t have sat on the garage structure itself, but would have been supported by a structure around the garage, she said.
The taller the tower, the more expensive the project would have been to build, said Ryan Coleman, the city’s director of economic development.
To make it work financially, renters would have faced rates well more than market value for the area, Gentry said. And the worst thing the city could do would be to allow a massive project to be built and then sit vacant, she said.
The city expects Hallmark to next explore the possibility of apartments above the parking garage at the corner of Taylor and Assembly streets, Gentry said.
It’s likely that a shorter project will be considered over that garage, she said. That garage is built differently than the Lady Street garage, allowing for different structural options, she said.
Other sites included in Hallmark’s air rights agreement with the city are the Cannon garage on Taylor Street, the Lincoln Street garage, the Park Street garage and the Washington Street garage. The contract gives Hallmark exclusive rights to explore apartment development above these garages through 2025.
The city remains interested in seeing taxable development rise above its garages, Gentry and Coleman said.
“I think the fact that people are even exploring these types of concepts is just a testament to how downtowns have become popular again,” Coleman said. “That’s huge. When you’ve got people looking at these kinds of outside-the-box things, that means you’ve got a good, healthy market.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.