Developer Ron Swinson calls his purchase and ongoing renovation of the Arcade mall on Main Street a labor of love, one he dreamed about while working on other projects in the area.
He was the managing partner in the purchase and renovation of the oddly shaped “punch card’’building across Main Street from the Arcade. He also owned and renovated Washington Square, the former headquarters of Standard Federal where city of Columbia offices are now located.
His office was across the street from The Arcade for about twelve years. While working on those projects he often would admire the Arcade, and he wondered how it could be restored to its former glory.
“I always admired the building,” he said. “But the economics did not seem to make sense. With some help from incentives in the tax code, we decided to take a chance. ... We chose to proceed because we did not want to see such a beautiful building in such a prominent location go to waste.”
Originally from Jacksonville, Fla., Swinson graduated from Furman University in 1976 and Emory University School of Law in 1979. He moved to Columbia in 1983 to take a job with U.S. Capital Corp. and became the general counsel before leaving to start Peach Properties in 1986.
Swinson, 62, and his wife, Dorothy, have been married 40 years. They have four children and five grandchildren. His son-in-law, Brad Shell, and his son, Ross, work with Swinson at Peach Properties.
Q. What is the Arcade?
The Equitable Arcade was built in 1912 by The Equitable Real Estate Co.. It surrounds The Barringer Building at the corner of Main and Washington streets. The exterior of the building is Italian terra cotta as is a significant portion of the interior columns and balcony. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It currently houses retail, service and restaurant businesses on the first floor and a variety of office uses and art galleries on the second floor. The basement, formerly home to “Columbia Down Under,” a collection of bars and restaurants in the early 1970s, is currently unoccupied.
Q. Why did you buy it?
We purchased the building two years ago because it was underutilized and we felt it was a good opportunity to which we could add value. I also felt that it was a beautiful structure which needed to be renovated to bring out its full beauty.
Q. What is the integration between the Arcade and the rest of Main Street?
The Arcade is so well located in the heart of the Main Street district and less than two blocks from the (State House). With the foot traffic that the offices, retail and restaurants bring, The Arcade integrates well with opportunities for food service, additional retail and smaller offices in an historic environment that is not otherwise available in the area.
Q. What is going on now at the Arcade?
Currently, the spaces of a number of long-time tenants have been or are being renovated. Salon Sole', Swanson’s Deli, His and Hers Tailoring, Blue Sky’s Art Gallery and Bespoke clothing are among them. Capital Quarters and Le Chic Hair Salon are scheduled for renovation in the fall. There are also a number of new tenants who have already opened or whose spaces are currently being built out. Pita Pit and Stoner’s Pizza will be opening in the next couple of months. Wilhelmina Waxing Parlour, Dr. Phone Fix and Pelliclaude hand made gifts are new to The Arcade and are open for business.
Upstairs, Soda City and Palmetto Commercial Services have recently moved their offices in while the art galleries of Bonnie Goldberg and Tish Lowe have each moved from downstairs. The law office of Charles Johnson, the real estate firm Crosland Barnes and the marketing and public relations firm, Blue Avenue, have been renovated, expanded and are also open for business. The unoccupied office spaces are currently under renovation and available for lease through Carolinas Retail Partners.
Q. What is your vision for the Arcade in the future?
The terra cotta surfaces of the building, both inside and outside, are being repaired and a protective coating will be applied. The main entrances on both Main and Washington streets will be replaced in the fall and the alcoves will be renovated as well.
With the renovation of the building and, especially in light of the leasing activity, we see The Arcade becoming, and continuing to be, an energetic center of activity in the heart of the Main Street district. Retail shops, service businesses, restaurants and offices will thrive and serve the daytime office population as well as the growing full-time residents of downtown Columbia.