By Jared Owenby
July 19, 2013
When he looks out the windows of his restaurant, Terra chef and owner Mike Davis doesn’t see the grand complex that was supposed to be the Meeting Street gateway to West Columbia.
Instead, he sees a four-acre lot that remains an eyesore, where patches of grass grow and water stands after a rain. It’s such a scar on the New Brookland historic neighborhood that it even has a nickname – “the pit.”
City officials say they’re still trying to get the site developed after The Great Recession ruined their initial plans.
But so far, despite the scenic view of downtown Columbia at night and the Congaree River just a block away, it’s been a struggle.
“You would just think being right there on the river and, as close as it is to the city, that at some point something
has got to go there that would be smart to help everything out,” said Davis, whose restaurant has been at Meeting and State streets for seven years – just two more years than the lot has been empty.
It will still be a struggle for a development like Rivertown to happen, said Mike Dodds, senior managing director at Integra Reality Resources in Columbia.
“Unless you have tentative commitments to show banks, you won’t get the necessary funding for a development,” Dodds said.
In 2007, developer Wade Caughman unveiled his $20 million plan for Rivertown. It would be a combination of offices, retail and restaurants with a lot of sidewalk activity. Caughman said he wanted people to have an experience when they came to Rivertown.
But Caughman couldn’t find tenants , and in 2008 his contract with the city to buy the property for $3.85 million lapsed.
Now that the economy is improving, Caughman says he’s planning to try again. “We’re planning to submit a proposal, but we haven’t started anything yet,” he said.
West Columbia still owns the site, City Administrator Jennifer Cunningham said. Economic Development Director Donna Smith said the city was “looking to make this a destination, not just another big-box store where people would come to pick up a prescription or make a bank deposit.”
Several other developers also have been interested but couldn’t get financing either, Smith said. Several hotel chains also looked at the site but couldn’t get the money, she said.
|Listen to Davis explain how a development would help.|
Davis expects any development would be good for business at his restaurant, one of several along Meeting Street.
“It’s kind of an eyesore, you know, but for the most part anything that would draw more people to this area would be good for Terra,” he said.
West Columbia officials say they still want a place with sidewalk activity that includes outside dining and window-shopping. Smith expects it would draw people from Columbia and be a catalyst for economic growth in the area.
And she continues to hope. “We keep hearing that there are some positive trends in the real estate market,” Smith said, “and as those continue to get stronger we’ll see some activity.”