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Developer of huge Columbia Vista site changes plans, seeks new partners

Kline site (copy)

A marker at the corner of Huger and Gervais streets in Columbia notes that the 7-acre site was the home to Kline Steel and Iron for 80 years. File/Mike Fitts/Staff

COLUMBIA — The owner of a huge redevelopment site in Columbia's Vista is seeking to take on partners or sell some — perhaps even all — of the real estate.

The original $92 million redevelopment plan for the former Kline Iron and Steel site no longer fits the market, Greenville developer Bo Aughtry told The Post and Courier on April 27.

The plan for the seven-acre site at Huger and Gervais streets was unveiled in February 2020, just as the first U.S. cases of COVID-19 were being reported.

That plan was focused heavily on creating new office, hotel and retail space. With travel down and so many companies looking to have employees work from home even as the pandemic starts to ebb, that math has changed.

"Our master plan no longer feels viable to me," Aughtry said.

The Windsor Aughtry company is advertising for business partners that might want to work with them on the site or to buy portions of it for their own projects. That could mean a business partnership bringing other uses such as apartments to the site.

Essentially, Aughtry said, his company is trying to gauge what might make more sense for the site. His company generally does not create apartment buildings, he said, but that's a possible use that could make sense now.

The plan for the site in 2020 included at least one hotel in the first phase. Plans also included about 75,000 square feet of office space, 35,000 feet for commercial/retail development and a 307-space parking garage that was to be open to the public. 

The location seems inviting for a new project at one at one of Columbia's key intersections yet it has sat empty for the past 15 years, with other efforts at projects there failing to come to fruition.

For decades, the site was home to Kline, one of the nation's top constructors of radio, TV and other towers, including the antenna atop the World Trade Center and the big sombrero at South of the Border in Dillon.

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The company also supplied steel for structural projects, including the BMW plant in Greer and Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.

After decades in family ownership, Kline was bought out by American Tower in the year 2000, and the plant closed in 2004.

Aughtry said his company still might oversee some or all of the project with a revamped plan, or it would sell the entire parcel for the right offer.

The company spent more than $5 million on the site and then saw the project grind to a halt for a year.

"We need to put it to use," Aughtry said.

While the changes in the real estate market are the main reason that Aughtry is seeking additional investors, he also said that Columbia's high property taxes present a challenge. When a Columbia project is debated, the tax rate often is the first question, he said.

"Property taxes in the city of Columbia discourage a lot of folks," Aughtry said.

The Kline site was competing against a number of new hotels planned in and around the Vista.

Other planned hotels announced for the Vista include: a 144-room Choice Cambria hotel under construction at the corner of Park and Lady streets; a 34-room boutique hotel announced for the former armory building on Assembly Street; two hotels planned near the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center by developer Ben Arnold — which includes a four-star, 11-story, 150-room property called Hotel Anthem; and a 130-room hotel proposed by Solara Hospitality at the corner of Huger and Senate streets.

A Holiday Inn Express also just opened March 10 near the Columbia Police Department's downtown headquarters.

Jessica Holdman contributed from Columbia.

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