COLUMBIA, SC – A huge undeveloped future Columbia park bordering a downtown stretch of the Congaree River between Blossom and Gervais streets is now just trees, marsh, rocks and weeds.
But later this year, on the edge of that land, developers hope to erect the first structure of what they hope will be a unique artists colony set amid hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of future apartments, student dormitories, offices, restaurants – all along the rim of the city’s future and yet-to-be named waterfront park.
Called Stormwater Studios, the artists colony will be located on the river side of Huger Street. Rough draft plans call for it to be a complex of three or four buildings that house studios and living space for artists who make large sculptures or iron works.
“The general plan is to build this building first,” said Fred Delk, pointing to a red rectangle on a rough draft schema. The red shape depicts what he says will be a metal building with five or six artists’ studios. Ceilings will be up to 18 feet high, and studio fronts will be windowed garage doors that slide upward. Studios might have a mezzanine where the artist can live.
“They will be able to work in their studios and roll the doors up and haul their stuff out to work on outside,” Delk said. “These are not for painters, but for industrial artists who have larger space needs. The whole thing is to create a collaboration among artists.”
Delk is executive director of the city’s Columbia Development Corp., a nonprofit created to foster and guide development in the city. In 1984, the Development Corp. bought the land where Stormwater Studios will be.
Stormwater Studios – about an acre and a half in size – is special, Delk said, not just because it is expected to be first of what officials hope will be a vibrant chain of projects rimming the future river park but because the studios will demonstrate what Delk calls “connectivity.”
“From the Stormwater Studios complex, there will be a walkway, pathways, maybe a sculpture garden where the artists or their visitors can get over to the future park,” Delk said. “It will play against, and contribute to, the riverfront development.”
The project is geared toward the established mid-career artist who can pay up to $100,000 for a 1,000-square-foot studio, Delk said. Some studios may be 1,500 square feet with mezzanines. Zoning laws will restrict buyers to artists, he said, and allow them to live in their studios if they wish, he said. Eventually the complex may have a sales gallery.
“When an artist sells his studio, he has to sell it to someone with an appropriate use,” Delk said. “The purpose is to have active arts uses – it doesn’t do any good if someone is using it for a storage unit.”
Clark Ellefson, who makes furniture and lighting, already has an artists colony of sorts next door to the Stormwater site, across Huger Street from Stronghold Gym.
Ten years ago, knowing that Delk’s group had bought a piece of land to the rear of his for a future artistic use, he and a partner bought the land on Huger that’s now the site of the One Eared Cow hand-blown, glass art studio and gallery and Ellefson’s own custom furniture and lighting store, Lewis and Clark.
Ellefson built a living space for himself there, too.
“We purchased our land with that in mind,” Ellefson said. “I’m not only looking forward to Stormwater Studios, I’ve spent a great deal of time to help move things along. We’ve already designed a pedestrian walkway that can move people through our space into the Stormwater Studios area.”
To Ellefson, Stormwater Studios will be special because it is designed so only artists can own studios.
“Artists often help gentrify areas and then get pushed out by development,” Ellefson said. “This way, artists can grow into the community instead of just being on the fringe of it.”
Over the years, especially when the recession hit in 2008, things looked bleak for a future artists colony.
“There were definitely times when we thought, ‘Well, I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not,’” Ellefson said.
Although Delk predicts Stormwater Studios will break ground by November, he still has legal, architectural and landscaping issues to get straight.
“It could be a hit, and we could have it all done in a few years,” Delk said. “We want to do it right. Speed is not the issue.”