Urban Land Institute Panel Examines Columbia City Center

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A national panel of experts in planning and executing development efforts is in Columbia to try to break through longstanding, competing interests in the city center that hold back well-intentioned studies that have gathered dust, reports The State newspaper..

Nine volunteers from as far away as California, Colorado and Washington, D.C., are joining two South Carolinians as part of an Urban Land Institute panel, said Fred Delk, director of one of Columbia’s development groups.  The goal is to devise a plan that makes Columbia’s city center more accessible and vibrant, including making it more pedestrian friendly.

This panel is sponsored by business organizations that often compete for the dollars that accompany growth, Delk, of the Columbia Development Corp., said Monday. None of the $60,000 to defray the panel’s travel expenses comes from city funds, he said.  “This is the first time that I’m aware of that all these downtown organizations have gotten together at the same table,” Delk said. “What we have done (with past studies) is create these great plans and then nothing gets done.”

Those groups include the Congaree Vista Guild, the Five Points Association, the University of South Carolina, the Historic Columbia Foundation, City Center Partnership, the Columbia Development Corp. as well as major developers Thompson and Co., Guignard Associates and the Arnold Companies.  This panel’s job is “about breaking down barriers,” Delk said.

The out-of-town experts are to sort through the myriad other plans, boil down its own findings and suggest which projects should be done first “to get the biggest bang for the buck,” he said. Some of those plans include the city center master plan and the USC’s plans for its waterfront district, but many of those plans have been hobbled by the expense of such big-ticket projects.

The panel, led by chairman Alex J. Rose of Continental Development Corp., in El Segundo, Ca., will tour the city’s business and entertainment districts and downtown neighborhoods then hold a series of private meetings with stakeholders and members of City Council, Delk said.

The closed-door meetings will include major downtown business leaders, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, local real estate groups and others, Delk said. He declined to name anyone with whom the panel will be meeting.

The public will be heard at 9 a.m. Thursday, when the panel will present its preliminary recommendations at the same location. A final report is due within six weeks, Delk said.  The panel is different from an Urban Land Institute group that came to town last year to studying largely the Assembly Street corridor, he said. That panel had experts from across South Carolina.

City center panel members have been studying Columbia and its challenges for six months. They were provided statistics analyses, mapping information and economic development data. SC participants on the panel included John L. Knott, president of Noisette Co. in Charleston, who specializes in urban redevelopment and green economy; and Amy Barrett, vice president at Charleston’s Permar, Inc., a development firm. She specializes in land use and development patterns. Read More