Editorial: Columbia did well in resale of Palmetto Compress

10/20/2013 12:00 AM

10/19/2013 12:25 AM

EVEN THOSE who opposed Columbia City Council’s decision to intervene to save the Palmetto Compress warehouse for adaptive reuse have to be pleased — and impressed — with how quickly a deal was reached to sell the property to private developers.

On Tuesday, City Council authorized the city manager to sign a contract with Palmetto Compress Preservation Developers, a local group led by Vista businesswoman Rosie Craig. The deal comes roughly six months after the city bought the structure with the promise of selling it to a private investor who would redevelop it. For Columbia, known for moving far too slowly even when time is of the essence, that’s a lightning-fast turnaround.

We commend both city leaders and the Columbia Development Corp., which oversaw the acquisition and subsequent resale of the warehouse, for their dutiful efforts.

It’s also encouraging that the company purchasing the structure includes preservationists such as Ms. Craig. Preservationists had fought to save the warehouse from a development plan that called for it to be razed. They then urged the city to preserve it for adaptive reuse, insisting there were developers who would take on the project.

By now stepping up to redevelop Palmetto Compress, preservationists prove they are willing to put their money where their mouths are and that they intend to be part of the solution when it comes to saving this community’s history. Some like to paint those who pursue the noble idea of preserving older and historic structures as obstructionists; that’s certainly not true in this case.

If the deal is finalized by April as planned, not only will the city recoup the $7 million it invested, but it will make $100,000. More importantly, if the plan to convert the warehouse into a hotel, condos and retail center is a success — and we certainly hope it is — it could have an economic impact of between $40 million and $50 million, according to Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corp., which is an arm of the city’s business recruitment efforts.

Some were understandably concerned when the council voted to withdraw $7 million from a health care reserve account in order to purchase, improve and maintain the warehouse. The plan, which the city must live up to, was to return that money to the account once the site is sold.

We cautioned Columbia officials to examine the risk and to work diligently to sell the property as soon as possible. If the city couldn’t turn this deal around quickly, it would end up owning the property long term, saddling taxpayers with the cost of maintaining it. Frankly, deals of this sort are best left in the hands of private developers.

Let’s face it: Had the deal gone sour and the city taken a bath on it, many, including us, would have roundly criticized the effort. Now that it’s headed for what appears to be a successful sale and redevelopment, it’s only fair to give the city due commendation.

While City Council certainly shouldn’t make such undertakings common practice, we can’t argue with the results in this particular case. Well done.

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