October 9, 2013
By Eva Moore | Free Times
Often cited as one of the city’s revitalization successes, the Congaree Vista used to be a run-down, dangerous warehouse district. After 20 years of streetscaping, utility improvements and public and private investment, it’s filled with restaurants, upscale shops and art galleries.
But with the Vista in good shape, what’s next for the area?
To answer that question, the City of Columbia has launched a planning project to gather public feedback about the future of the Vista.
“Much of the attention for redevelopment has moved across town to another part of town,” said Frank Knapp, president of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce, at a forum earlier this year on the future of the Vista.
He’s right: Bull Street and Main Street have drawn a lot of recent headlines. Knapp called that “a good thing” — more development elsewhere in Columbia will drive continued growth in the Vista — but framed this as a time for people to think about what the Vista should be.
Attracting more retail is key to the area’s future, said Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corporation, a city entity that helped develop the Vista, at that same forum.
“Urban Outfitters just opened,” he said. “That’s going to create a renewal of retail space.”
The river, too, is key, Delk said: The Vista needs to be involved in citywide discussions about how to take better advantage of the city’s rivers.
And city planners and Vista stakeholders need to make some decisions about how they’ll stand out from the surrounding areas.
For example: “There is a tremendous amount of student housing coming to the neighborhood,” Delk said, referencing housing developments near Blossom and Huger. “We don’t have anything to prevent that from coming into the center of the Vista … as a community, is that what we want? Do we want to do something to limit and concentrate those kinds of uses?”
And the Vista, like many other areas of Columbia, desperately needs better pedestrian infrastructure: safer street crossings, more attractive corners.
Still, everyone at the Small Business Chamber of Commerce panel agreed the Vista’s historically industrial character is its most important feature.
“To a large degree, our customer base here is people who live in the suburbs … taking advantage of something they haven’t experienced before, taking advantage of historic buildings that have been adaptively reused,” Delk said. “When you walk down the [Lincoln Street] canopy, you get an experience you don’t get anywhere but Columbia, South Carolina.”
The city’s planning effort, called the West Gervais Planning Study, began a few months ago, when city staff began meeting with some key stakeholders. The more visible planning work begins this week with two public input sessions. Those will be followed by surveys and workshops throughout the next several months. The goal is a plan that’ll guide future development in the area.
John Fellows, Columbia’s planning administrator, says this week’s sessions will involve some creative approaches to feedback: City staff will go out on the streets of the Vista with sticky notes and questions for passersby, asking them to engage with their environment.
The city is also engaged in planning for the Garners Ferry-Devine Street-Fort Jackson Boulevard commercial corridor, and recently completed a plan for the Rosewood area. Visit columbiaplanning.net for information on upcoming public meetings and planning efforts.
West Gervais Commercial Area Plan
The city holds two informal public input sessions this week on the future of the Vista.
Friday, Oct. 11: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-6 p.m.
Gervais and Lincoln (under train canopy)
For additional information, please call 545-3215 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.