Trendy shopping center enlivens Columbia neighborhood

The summer day that David and Emily Jones were busy unpacking a moving truck at their new home off Fort Jackson Boulevard, a sweet, white-haired lady showed up at the door and offered to take their 8-year-old daughter next door to make peach cobbler.

They’ve been family friends with Jeanne Craig ever since.

In some ways, their small, multi-generational neighborhood, which recently adopted the name Cross Hill, harkens to the 1950s when it was built.

In other ways, it’s part of a 21st century model for urban redevelopment that comfortably melds retail areas with nearby customers, providing passage with sidewalks and shade trees.

Folks living in the neighborhood behind the new Cross Hill Market, anchored by the health-conscious Whole Foods, are proud of their new front door, an upscale shopping center that opened just nine months ago.

Now, they’re talking with city officials about the types of redevelopment they’d like to see around them. They’re hoping for a nature trail along Gills Creek, meandering south from nearby Lake Katharine. Such a trail could expand the pedestrian reach of the Cross Hill Market, on the one hand, and provide a wholesome outlet for residents, on the other.

As it is, the people of Cross Hill seem very satisfied.

“Through the years, it has been the most convenient neighborhood,” said Craig, 82, who with her husband, Glen, has lived in Cross Hill longer than just about anyone.

“People will renovate their house before they move out,” added Jennifer Suber, an events planner and mother of two. “We’re not a transient neighborhood at all. We have a great blend of older people and young families, like us.”

Suber was among those helping organize a neighborhood association for the community roughly bounded by Devine Street, Beltline Boulevard, Kilbourne Road and Fort Jackson Boulevard.

Edens, a Columbia-based shopping-center developer, had announced the reclamation of a vacant Kroger grocery site. City officials led by Councilwoman Leona Plaugh suggested a neighborhood group would be beneficial for distributing information.

Suber said the neighborhood’s expectations were pretty basic. It didn’t want to see or hear the shopping center. Lighting and traffic were addressed quickly. Early on, there was talk of the need for a new fence between the neighborhood and shopping center. Then a sidewalk was added to wend unconventionally through the pines.

Suber is relatively new to the neighborhood, having moved from Forest Acres in 2005. She and husband, Shell, were starting a family, needed more room, and were lured to Cross Hill by its location, tree-lined streets and large lots.

The neighborhood is old-fashioned, Suber said, in that everyone takes care of their front lawns. Residents get outside to walk or jog. And neighbors can count on pleasant interactions with one another, like the annual Cinco de Mayo party held by Jim and Pam Daly every May, or the “eat in the street” potluck that allows cooks to show off just a little.

Jim Daly, who has lived in Cross Hill for 10 years now, said the neighborhood is seeing more young couples move in. The shopping center next door is a definite plus, he said. So is the influx of restaurants.

“My wife and I like to walk over to American Roadside Burger,” he said.

In June, the city of Columbia brought in a consultant who’s working with residents and business owners to discuss the future redevelopment of a broad area, from I-77 to Midlands Tech.

John Fellows, the city’s planning administrator, said it didn’t take long for the group to agree they’d like to be able to walk among destinations. Also, he said, there was talk of the area as a Columbia “gateway” that needs polishing.

Executives with the Edens company, which got the ball rolling, expect the area to become more active and attractive.

Edens waited eight years to land the Whole Foods, then took pains to create a setting where people would “want to slow down and connect,” said Jodie McLean, president and chief investment officer.

“We have a very strong point of view about retail and retail’s position in building community,” she said.

McLean sees the retail hub surrounding Cross Hill becoming more active and attractive. The vacant Kmart will be redeveloped relatively soon, she predicted. “There are retailers that are very interested.”

Herbert Ames, Edens development manager, said there could be opportunities for an apartment project, along with more retail and general commercial. “It’ll look a lot different in the next five to seven years.”

The Gills Creek Watershed Association’s plans for a nature trail could be a real showpiece, Ames added.

A master plan for the trail, with funding shared by Edens and Richland County, should be unveiled by mid-September.

“This would be an excellent way to promote pedestrian access in that area,” said Erich Miarka, director of the watershed association. “It’s going to be bike friendly as well.”

Another thing that got the neighborhood group cranked up was the appearance of an adult video store on nearby Devine Street. But residents said that really hasn’t been much of a distraction.

What’s created the change, they said, is the Cross Hill Market.

Jones said the shopping center has become part of her day-to-day life in both a functional and a social way.

She sees more people walking along neighborhood streets carrying grocery bags. And every time she goes there, she runs into people she knows.

“I don’t think our neighborhood had an identity prior to Cross Hill coming.”

By the numbers

286 households in the Cross Hill neighborhood

11 retailers in the Cross Hill Market that opened in October 2012

3.5 miles of greenway planned along Gills Creek, starting in Cross Hill and extending to Shop Road

SOURCE: Columbia planning department; Edens; Gills Creek Watershed Association

About this series

This is another in an occasional series looking at changes and trends in some Columbia-area neighborhoods.