Major facelift planned for Columbia’s South Main Street

'Ugliest road in Columbia' to get face lift

Main Street, south of the State Capitol, will be renovated to become more pedestrian friendly and attractive
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Main Street, south of the State Capitol, will be renovated to become more pedestrian friendly and attractive

A major facelift is being planned for Columbia’s South Main Street that would narrow it from four to two lanes and eliminate all on-street parking.

The four-block improvement plan, which runs from The State House complex south to Blossom Street, is intended to do for South Main what beautification projects and special zoning overlays did for The Vista and Main Street — breathe additional life into the district and weed out the ugly.

It is also intended to tie together USC’s historic campus with the State House grounds and the university’s developing “innovation district” west of Assembly Street toward the Congaree River.

“It’s a missing public piece; it’s a cog,” said John Fellows, the city’s planning administrator. “It’s the piece that can hold all those other pieces together.”

The plan — proposed by the city of Columbia, the University of South Carolina and the state of South Carolina — was recommended last week by the city’s Planning Commission. It was developed by the Sasaki Associates landscape firm, which also built the 2005 Innovista Master Plan.

The South Main plan draws from a 1919 landscape plan by then-landscape architects Kelsey & Guild that called for a park and mall stretching from Pendleton Street to Blossom. “It’s bringing back some planning things that stretch back 100 years,” Fellows said.

No timetable or cost was included in the report. Nor did it say who would pay for the project.

For Rob Reed, who has owned the Immaculate Conception coffee shop on South Main for 20 years, the improvements are long in coming.

“It’s a great idea,” said Reed. who has participated in planning meetings and briefings. “This is one of the ugliest streets in town.”

Reed said some merchants are worried about the construction process once it begins – “Nobody knows the impact” – but the final result should be positive.

“It will just be a more pleasant place to come,” he said.

About 950 resident live in the four-block South Main Capital District, as it is now called, between Assembly and Sumter streets – mostly in the Cornell Arms apartment tower, the Adesso condominium complex and USC’s Honors College dorm. The plan calls for more residential housing in mixed-use buildings.

The study notes that the district has very little green space and an “excessive” number of parking lots. Most of those surface lots are near the State House, creating dead space between the university and the State House grounds.

The study shows: The area has 7.9 acres of parking lots, or about 58 percent of the entire district; 3.2 acres of buildings; 1.7 acres of streets and sidewalks; and, 0.9 acres of green space.

Surface parking lots and small restaurants like Immaculate Consumption are typical of the northern two blocks of the street, while the southern two blocks are dominated by USC academic buildings.

The study comes out about two years after USC turned back an effort by a private developer to build a 15-story student housing tower at the site of the former Sandy’s hotdog restaurant and the Baptist campus ministriy building.

The study calls for two- to six-story mixed use, street-fronted buildings.

Narrowing the street to two lanes and eliminating on-street parking would create an “incursion zone” that would permit merchants more room for outdoor tables and other features.

The plan also envisions three parks and two pedestrian promenades:

▪  A landscaped quadrangle replacing the Byrnes Building at College and Sumter streets;

▪  A landscaped quadrangle in the surface parking fronting South Main behind the USC School of Law;

▪  A landscaped courtyard at the western entrance to Wardlaw College;

▪  A promenade along College Street running from Sumter Street to the Arnold School of Public Health on Assembly Street; and,

▪  A promenade along Greene Street from the Russell House to Assembly Street.

On Tuesday, USC got permission from state government to borrow up to $45 million to renovate the former law school building to make room for modern classrooms and science labs.

"We’re excited about the prospect of the development of South Main Street into a modern urban corridor for use by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles alike,” USC architect Derek Gruner said.

“The changes under consideration would not only improve the aesthetics of the area, but also would make it a safer and more accessible area to our students and the entire community,” he said. “As we’ve seen with the development of Main Street north of the State House, altering roadways to adapt to a community’s changing needs can have a transformative effect on the vitality of an area.”

South Main District features

▪  Narrow the street from four to two lanes

▪  Eliminate on-street parking

▪  Widen sidewalk to encourage more street life

▪  Establish small parks and promenades

▪  Eliminate surface parking lots

▪  Protect existing businesses

▪  Limit buildings to six stories