SCANA Corp. next month will start cleanup of one of the most prized tracts of developable land in Columbia - the old bus barn lot at Huger and Hampton streets.
Over the next four to six months, workers will haul out 55,000 to 65,000 tons of dirt and demolition debris from the 5.8-acre lot. The project is expected to cost a little more than $6 million.
Up to 20 percent of the soil is highly contaminated because the area was first developed in 1902 as an SCE&G manufactured gas plant - a time when Huger Street was a dirt road and coal gas lit city streets.
The cleanup is significant because the bus barn and the adjacent 7.2-acre Kline Iron and Steel property represent two full blocks of Huger Street in the heart of the Vista that will be ready for development when the economy improves.
"It is probably the premier privately held development site in the city center," said Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corp., which encourages and guides investment in the Vista and other downtown areas.
"You could have an enormous mixed-use project right next to the river, right next to the State Museum," he said. "It could represent hundred of millions of dollars in development."
SCANA spokesman Robert Yanity said it is likely that the utility will sell the site, but there is an off chance it could be used by the company for its needs.
"It's just too early to tell," he said. "But it obviously is a great place for development."
Kline Iron and Steel property owner Jerry Kline had preliminary plans for an eight-story complex of condos, offices, stores and a hotel connected to the three Rivers Greenway.
At an estimated $120 million, the 1.4 million-square-foot Kline Center would have been one of the Vista's most striking projects. But Kline did not go forward with the project because he didn't feel the time was right to build.
Yanity said there have been no discussions about either party buying out each other or merging the tracts. And he said the utility has not had any other developers express interest in the property.
"That's not to say there won't be some in the future," he said.
The property is called the bus barn because it used to house SCANA's buses before the service was transferred to the city in 2002.
The structures on the property were razed last year. SCANA waited until this November to begin removing the soil because cold weather will help to tamp down the smell that the removal will cause, project manager Bob Apple said.
The byproduct of the century-old gas operation was coal tar, which contains the contaminants benzene and naphthalene.
"It smells like coal tar and a little like mothballs," he said.
It will take 6,400 truck trips to take out the old soil and bring in new soil, Apple said.
The contaminated soil will be shipped to a special facility in Richmond that will burn out the coal tar and other contaminates. Uncontaminated soil and debris will be shipped to the Waste Management-Richland County Landfill in Elgin.
The land had been passed between SCANA and the city of Columbia twice in the past few years. It was first turned over to the city of Columbia as part of 2002's $71 million deal to transfer the bus system from the utility to a regional transit authority.
But in June, SCANA paid $4 million to buy the property back. The purchase helped the city bail out the new but financially ailing regional bus system.