Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Downtown Columbia's upward mobility

Well, the downtown of Columbia is changing folks - that's obvious, at least to all of us who live and breath and work in the area and haven't been under a rock. All over Columbia, from the Vista to Innovista to Vista West, Five Points to North Main out to the Northeast even lower Richland and to the South, Columbia is growing not just in terms of land area but also in height.

Ground has just been broken on a new 17 floor office tower at the corner of Main and Gervais Streets which should be completed in a little under two years, it'll host a set of amenities no doubt to cater to the crowd across the street, including a terraced restaurant. This of course will compete directly with downtown's two other, and might I add architecturally more pleasing, buildings Meridian Tower and First Citizens Complex. But despite the excitement over wealthy law firms and banks building new office towers down, that's not what is driving Main Street's upward mobility. Right now the streets roll up after the 9-5 crowd takes their leave.

Real estate companies have been trying to force revitalization, or more accurately "cultivate" downtown beyond a few pawn shops and wig stores. Granted there are certain anchors already in place, but they alone don't pull in the business that makes Main Street... well a main attraction.

But this week saw the opening of the heart of Columbia's newest hotel in one of its more historic buildings - the new Sheraton Hotel. But how can a 135 room hotel with four bars push upward mobility, precisely because it pulls 135 rooms worth of people onto the streets after five, streets that have been vacated by the office dwellers. And those folks need to have something to do other than sit in their rooms, yes they could walk to the walk around the blocks of main for a meal at one of the few establishments that is open beyond lunch time, or even drive to the Vista - perhaps if they enjoy a bar-style of entertainment. So what are these people going to do?

They could go to the Colonial Center for a game or large concert, they could go to the Koger Center for an evening performance by the philharmonic or ballet, or perhaps out to Irmo or the North East to catch a movie, or maybe to the Township or Trustus, or Town or Workshop to see a play - but that all involves driving.

Thankfully some plans have already been made, and independently of this hotel being renovated downtown which will satisfy some of that which is wanting on Main Street. The Nickelodeon, already within driving distance, or a nice long walk, is moving to the old Fox Theater location two blocks up, and one block up and around the corner the old Bethel AME Church is being converted into an Arts and Cultural Center by the Renaissance society which may spur more theater companies or dance troops, which has already inspired a local film festival and soon will start a study program for school age children. I'd imagine too that the extra foot traffic may spur more businesses to come into the downtown area, perhaps even more residential renovations may be possible.

Only time will tell - but if the kind of changes that have occurred in my 7 year tenure of Columbia happen over the next 7 years then only good can come.

Photos from SkyScraperPageForum and a friend.

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