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Building Our City: Economy is key to future growth

Even with glimmers of improvement, it's a given that the economy will probably continue to stink in 2010. And the economic climate will have a profound effect on how our city grows in the coming year.

There will be some progress. There will be disappointment. And there will be visions on hold.

Struggling Main Street, oddly enough, has muddled through quite well, thank you, and will reach some milestones in 2010.

A new office tower, Main & Gervais, will open. The Nickelodeon art house cinema will relocate to the old Fox Theater. And trendy Mast General Store will start renovating the old Lourie's Building for a store and apartments.

The biggest question mark and opportunity is the Palmetto Center. Emptied when SCE&G abandoned downtown, the tower represents about one-tenth of all office space in the city center.

There is less promise for USC's downtown research campus, Innovista, which in 2009 fired its second private development partner and is rethinking how to build two private research buildings that were intended to create jobs.

The one bright spot for USC is a new business school planned for Innovista. USC promises innovation in design, philosophy and application. We'll see.

Five Points continues to evolve with the opening in January of a Walgreens drugstore and two other retail spaces on the old Kenny's Auto site. BB&T also will build a new bank branch on the former Hiller Hardware site. Will the funky urban village near USC remain funky? We'll see.

And this year could finally turn up a buyer for the 178-acre State Hospital campus on Bull Street. The potential sale and development of the largest in-town block of property in the city has been called "Columbia's BMW." But while there have been rumors, no one has bitten ... yet.

Finally, the most important event of the year for the city's development could be April's mayoral race. Under Bob Coble, City Council spent big bucks on streetscaping, greenway projects, and downtown economic development.

Will the city continue to prime the pump? Will it back more, or less, regulation? And what about neighborhood protection and historic preservation? A new mayor will influence all of that.