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USC: Student housing tower would mar Horseshoe

A rendering from a shadow study by Humphreys & Partners Urban Architecture L.P. for a proposed 15-story, private student tower on south Main Street. The rendering shows the shadow cast at 3 p.m. on a Dec. 21, the winter solstice, when a shadow is cast over the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe. The design group says the effect would not be severe. An alumni group disagrees.
A rendering from a shadow study by Humphreys & Partners Urban Architecture L.P. for a proposed 15-story, private student tower on south Main Street. The rendering shows the shadow cast at 3 p.m. on a Dec. 21, the winter solstice, when a shadow is cast over the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe. The design group says the effect would not be severe. An alumni group disagrees. From Humphreys & Partners Urban Architecture, L.P.

A shadow war has erupted between the University of South Carolina and a national student housing developer from Memphis.

The USC Alumni Association has launched a petition drive and social media campaign claiming that a proposed 15-story private student tower on south Main Street would cast “a nasty shadow” on the Horseshoe and “on many of our most historic sites.”

An image on the Website saveourhorseshoe.org shows a massive shadow covering the Horseshoe at 4:30 p.m. in December – about one hour before sunset on one of the shortest days of the year.

Memphis-based developer EdR said it has a shadow study that disputes USC’s.

Alumni executive director Jack Claypoole said the shadow image was presented at a recent city Design/Development Review Commission meeting, and was provided by the university.

Aside from the shadow, however, “The issue for us is looking at a big, gray building,” Claypoole said Tuesday. “I think what we’ve done is identify a building that we feel is an eyesore and is out of character with the surrounding area.”

A spokesman for USC said the university did not spur the campaign, but supports it. Wes Hickman confirmed that USC provided the image from a study done internally.

“It’s clear that the threat of a 15-story high rise towering over our Horseshoe has touched a nerve among many alumni, students and friends of the university,” Hickman said. “We welcome their engagement and support and encourage those who are standing with us to make their voices heard.”

EdR won site plan approval from a city zoning board to build a tower on the location of Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs and the Baptist Collegiate Ministry student center, one block east of the Horseshoe fronting Sumter Street. EdR calls the project “Icon on Main.”

The alumni-sponsored website says, under the headline “Dark Shadow,” that “The most revered place on the University of South Carolina’s campus is being threatened by Tennessee-based college housing developer EdR.

“EdR wants to build a 15-story concrete towering residential complex on South Main Street – a dominating tower that casts a nasty shadow on many of our most historic sites,” the website states. “What does that mean for the University? It means our historic Horseshoe will never be the same again.”

A representative for EdR told The State on Tuesday that the company has a shadow study that counters the alumni association’s claim.

They provided some renderings to The State, which show the shadow about a half block to the north of the Horseshoe at 3 p.m. on Dec. 21, the winter solstice. Efforts to reach the engineering firm that provided the images, Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Urban Architecture, L.P, were unsuccessful.

“This development shouldn’t negatively impact (the Horseshoe) in any way,” said Samantha DeWees, a research analyst with Newmark Grubb Wilson Kibler, the commercial real estate firm handling the deal for EdR. “If anything, it would give students a better opportunity to experience the Horseshoe because they would be within walking distance.”

The war of images and words could be intended to build cases on both sides for a Design/Development Review Commission meeting July 9 on the building’s appearance. It also could be a very public lobbying effort of Columbia City Council, which could intercede in the project despite approvals by city boards.

The design commission would not sign off on the $60 million housing project last month despite city staff recommending approval. Instead, the commission sent the project back to a subcommittee for discussion and review. Those meetings resulted in a standoff between the university and the developers.

The zoning appeals board last month approved EdR’s variance request to raise the density above the allowed 150 person-per-acre limit. The tower on the 1.26-acre site will have 704 beds, according to site plans.

Critics have noted the tallest buildings in the immediate area are roughly four to seven stories including on USC’s campus, However, the Cornell Arms apartments, across the street from campus and a block away from the Horseshoe, is 18 stories tall, dating to the 1950s.

The site of the tower is some of the most expensive properties in the history of Columbia, said George McCutchen of Newmark Grubb, although he wouldn’t disclose the selling price. Financial models require the density of a 15-story building, McCutchen said.

“The studies show it won’t work financially otherwise,” he said.

McCutchen said there are other factors that cause shadows and shade on the Horseshoe. “There are lots of live oaks that keep their leaves all year,” he said. “And the seven-story Byrnes Building is just across the street.”

He also noted that many of the comments on the Save Our Horseshoe Facebook page contain misinformation about the project. “But it’s good to see that there are just as many comments in favor of the project,” McCutchen, the project’s real estate broker, said.

USC, the largest developer and operator of student housing in Columbia, had objected to the EdR plan before reviews by city boards. It is building its own high-end, 884-bed student housing project behind Carolina Coliseum.

Claypoole said the alumni association, which has 30,000 members and represents 280,000 living alumni, didn’t oppose the project entirely; they just want it redesigned. “We’re not against them building it if the developer would just make it lower,” he said.

Reach Wilkinson at (803) 771-8495.

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