Meredith Atkinson has only been executive director of the Congaree Vista Guild for three weeks, but she is starting her new job on the cusp of a development evolution that may transform the face of Columbia’s designated arts and entertainment district.
With two major Vista developments underway – one at the 150-year-old former City Market Antiques Mall on Gervais; the other across the street in Arnold Companies’ buildings at 700 and 800 Gervais – Atkinson sees preservation of the area’s old sites close to the Congaree River as a sign that retail life and business in the area is shifting.
I think the new businesses coming in and the restoration of these historic sites are going to move some retail and pedestrian activity closer to the river.”
Meredith Atkinson, executive director of the Congaree Vista Guild
“I think the new businesses coming in and the restoration of these historic sites are going to move some retail and pedestrian activity closer to the river,” said Atkinson, a Columbia native and former communications director for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
Fred Delk – who has been involved in the area’s development for years – agrees.
“It’s creating this new activity center,” said Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp. and a member of the Congaree Vista Guild’s board of directors. “The center of attention in the Vista has been Lincoln Street for a long time and this takes at least part of that center and moves it further west toward the river so it’s going to slightly move the Vista’s center of gravity in that direction.”
Ben Arnold started a transformation of the West Gervais Street corridor in 1996 with the renovation of 800 Gervais, which became home to Jillian’s and later to Wet Willies, Tsunami and Rocket Man Piano Bar. Now, Arnold Companies is renovating office space at the location to add new tenants, Tin Lizzy’s Cantina and City Bar and Fondue – both of which are slated to open next month, according to Arnold.
The Vista is changing on all fronts. The influx of multi-family for all ages in conjunction with the recent new hotels are demanding more entertainment options.”
Ben Arnold, developer with Arnold Companies
“The Vista is changing on all fronts. The influx of multi-family for all ages in conjunction with the recent new hotels are demanding more entertainment options,” Arnold said.
Across the street, at City Market Antiques, Scott Garvin of Garvin Design Group has transformed the site – which dates back to the 1860s – into a mixed-use space that is near 80 percent occupied just 10 months into development. Greenville-based Grill Marks restaurant opened there last month and Wired Goat Cafe and Wine Shop and Newk’s Eatery are scheduled to open in mid-October, Garvin said. A microbrewery, Twisted Spur, is scheduled to open in early December. The remaining square footage will most likely be office space, Garvin said, but a fitness center has also looked at locating there.
“Everything in the Vista was all spread out and you had little pockets of retail activity here and there. I had looked at City Market for a while but everyone felt like it was too far down the hill,” Garvin said. “I redeveloped the Starbucks building and there was kind of the same thought there. Seven or eight years ago, there was no activity there at all but then the Starbucks came in and changed the game. People started moving around all hours of the day and night and you just saw a lot more activity.”
Garvin is already seeing – and expects to see more – success at City Market, despite the fact that the development includes no parking.
“It’s kind of funny because everybody always says where’s the parking but I always say there is none but that’s OK. It’s OK in Charleston, it’s OK in Greenville, why can’t it be OK in Columbia?” Garvin said, adding that area parking garages should be utilized more. “If you look at Grill Marks, they’re doing great. They’re busy at lunch, they’re busy at night and there’s no parking. I just refuse to accept the fact that you have to have parking for a successful downtown core redevelopment.”
Garvin does agree with Delk and Atkinson, however, that pedestrian issues around the development will have to be addressed in the near future – something Garvin has already addressed with city and department of transportation officials.
We don’t really have a crossing for almost two city blocks and our location at City Market is almost in the middle and it would be a great place to have a pedestrian crosswalk.
Scott Garvin, developer with Garvin Design Group
“We don’t really have a crossing for almost two city blocks and our location at City Market is almost in the middle and it would be a great place to have a pedestrian crosswalk,” Garvin said. “We potentially could have 250 people just at my development between staff and patrons at any given time and Ben’s going to have a crowd across the street.”
Also, a lot of students will likely visit the area, “so I think it’s going to have to happen.”