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Massive cleanup begins on bus barn site

An aerial photograph from the 1940s shows a dirt Huger Street intersecting with the paved Gervais Street. SCE&G’s gas manufacturing plant is on the left side of Huger at top right; Kline Iron & Steel Co. is below it, fronting on Gervais; and the Columbia Mill, left lower on the canal, is now the State Museum.
An aerial photograph from the 1940s shows a dirt Huger Street intersecting with the paved Gervais Street. SCE&G’s gas manufacturing plant is on the left side of Huger at top right; Kline Iron & Steel Co. is below it, fronting on Gervais; and the Columbia Mill, left lower on the canal, is now the State Museum.

SCANA Corp. will begin demolition and cleanup today of one of the most prized pieces of real estate in Columbia — the old bus barn lot at Huger and Hampton streets.

Combined with the adjacent Kline Iron and Steel property, the clearing of the bus lot means 13½ acres of land in the heart of the Vista — Huger Street between Hampton and Gervais streets — is open for development.

Together the parcels are the largest developable tract in the Vista since the old 25-acre CCI prison site was sold for the CanalSide development.

“I could easily see $300 million in development there — $150 million on each of those sites,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., which guides investment in the Vista.

The tract would be prime for any type of high-density, mixed use development from office and condo towers to hotels and shopping, experts said.

The bus barn land 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.

But the byproduct of that gas production was coal tar, which contains the contaminants benzene and naphthalene.

The $5 million to $6 million cleanup will take up to 10 months to complete, said SCANA project manager Bob Apple. Workers will tear down all the buildings, and remove soil to a depth of 25 feet.

“A bunch of dirt goes out, and a bunch of dirt comes in,” Apple said.

The 5.8 acres then will be 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.

The land will be sold to developers. “Absolutely,” Mayor Bob Coble said.

Although the land hasn’t been appraised, senior city manager Steve Gantt estimated the value of the property at $4 million or so.

Downtown boosters said the timing might be right for the property.

The 10-month cleanup and other work “should give the economy time to improve,” the development corporation’s Delk said.

Jerry Kline, the owner of the 7.2-acre Kline Steel site, declined comment when asked if he wanted to purchase the bus barn property. He previously bought 1.2 acres from the city that sat between his site and the bus barn.

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 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.”

Kline said he has “no plans” for the property until he sees how other nearby developments, like CanalSide, fare.

“A year or two, maybe longer,” he said. “And when something goes on there, it will be something special.”

Kline’s grandfather and great-uncle founded the iron and steel company in 1923. He has said whatever is built there would be his family’s legacy.

One legacy that will be lost will be the 96-year-old brick administration building at Hampton and Huger streets on the bus lot.

The building is considered both historically and architecturally important, said John Sherrer of the Historic Columbia Foundation.

The land under the building is so contaminated it couldn’t be used for other purposes, he said.

Sherrer said the building will be photographed and documented. “That way, it is in the permanent historic register and is not lost.”

Reach Wilkinson at (803) 771-8495.

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