‘Tunnelvision’ mural will be saved as building is converted to apartments

More apartments are coming to downtown Columbia with the sale of the old AgFirst Farm Credit Bank Building, and an iconic artwork will keep its home there.

Memphis-based FLB Apartments LLC bought the building at 1401 Hampton St. for $3.8 million on April 25, records from the Richland County Register of Deeds show. The property is valued at more than $6.7 million for tax purposes, according to the Richland County Assessor’s Office. The new owner is seeking city landmark designation for the property.

The building is the site of Columbia artist Blue Sky’s iconic “Tunnelvision” mural, painted on the north exterior wall in 1975. The mural depicts a view through a stone-carved tunnel looking toward a descending sun.

“Tunnelvision” will remain intact and unobstructed when the building is converted to apartments, said a representative from Cox and Dinkins in Columbia, the civil engineer for the apartment project.

Sky said it’s good news that the mural is keeping its home, as he had worried about its fate with the sale of the building.

“It brings recognition to this area of the country. It’s a cultural icon,” Sky said.

FLB Apartments does not need to ask for rezoning on the site. The building’s current zoning allows for apartments, according to Krista Hampton, the city’s planning director.

The city Planning Commission will decide June 2 whether to recommend the AgFirst building be designated a Group II Landmark, which recognizes sites that have contributed to local history and have not been heavily altered since construction.

A city landmark designation would restrict some of the alterations that could be made to the building to preserve its historic features as well as allow the owner to apply for potential tax credits.

Built in 1923 with larger additions made in 1935, the building played a historic role in offering long-term credit to farmers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s important from a usage standpoint, but also one of our better examples of neoclassical architectural styles in Columbia,” John Fellows, of the city Planning and Historic Preservation Division, said of the building.

Robin Waites, director of Historic Columbia, said recognizing the building as a landmark would benefit the community because of the protective status that comes with the designation.

“The building itself has such a strong presence,” she said. “It takes up an important footprint in the city center.”

AgFirst relocated its offices to the Bank of America Plaza along Main Street earlier in the spring, leaving its Hampton Street home of eight decades.

Read Historic Columbia’s ‘brief’ on the building