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Why Columbia missed out on more March Madness hoops, closed IHOP gets new owner

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John A. Carlos II (copy)

A fan holds up a sign outside the 1st Round of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Colonial Life Arena, in Columbia on March 22, 2019. File/John A. Carlos II / Special to The Free Times

COLUMBIA — Those who enjoyed the return of NCAA March Madness to Columbia need to be prepared for a new wait: its bid for more basketball in the coming years was turned down.

Other cities in the Carolinas such as Greenville and Charlotte had their bids accepted by the NCAA last week for the tournaments of 2023 to 2027. Columbia bid again to host games, but despite positive comments last time, the Columbia bid's weaknesses caused it to be spurned this time. 

When Columbia received a weekend of first- and second-round games for Colonial Life Arena in 2019, the NCAA gave the city a waiver on not meeting the needed hotel capacity to host the event, said Bill Ellen, CEO of Experience Columbia SC, the tourism promotion group.

With the new five-year round of basketball tournaments being chosen, the hotel expectations went up even further, and Columbia did not measure up.

One issue: the NCAA likes to have each of the eight men's basketball teams stay at a different full-service hotel. Columbia got a waiver to put two teams in one hotel last time, but not again.

The NCAA wants full-service hotels so that such events as team meetings and meals can take place under the same roof. It prefers if those are within walking distance of the arena and not a lengthy bus ride away.

Ellen called the decision "extremely disappointing," but acknowledged that the hotel situation in downtown Columbia certainly fell short of what the NCAA wanted. 

"Outside the actual basketball court, hotels are the most important thing to them," Ellen said. 

Some Columbia hotels did not want to be part of the official bid this time and allocate blocks of rooms to teams, seeking instead to hope that they could sell rooms to fans at higher rates, Ellen said.

With the Columbia bid rejected, there won't be fans to fill those rooms.

A strong supply of hotels helped Greenville win its bid for men's basketball, with tournament games in 2026 added to the already planned event coming to the city in 2022. Between hosting in 2017 and 2022, Greenville is on pace to add 1,000 more hotel rooms downtown, giving it at least 2,300.

For Columbia, not getting more NCAA basketball removes an event that brought more than $11 million in business for a weekend in 2019, according to an estimate of economic impact. It also removes a great showcase for the city and its downtown, said Carl Blackstone, CEO of the Columbia Chamber.

Now the city needs to focus on what it can do to add the things that the NCAA found lacking, such as full-service downtown hotels, Blackstone said.

"It should be a wake-up call to make some changes if we want it back," Blackstone said. 

With the NCAA headed elsewhere for at least the next six years, Experience SC and its Sports division will work hard to lure other events to the Midlands. It will take a lot of wins to overcome the loss of the NCAA, which Ellen calls the biggest sports event that can come to a neutral-site venue outside the Super Bowl. 

"There is not a replacement for March Madness out there," Ellen said.

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Hope for IHOP

If the loss of the International House of Pancakes location at 1031 Assembly St., right near the Statehouse and the University of South Carolina campus has put a dent in your mornings (or late nights), there's hope for a Grand Slam in your future.

That location, closed since June, is one of 41 IHOP sites in the Southeast that have been purchased by Sun Holdings, according to a statement from IHOP last week. The other two S.C. locations are in Spartanburg and Anderson. 

The earlier franchisee, CFRA Holdings, filed for bankruptcy in May, according to several published reports.

Sun Holdings is an operator of more than 1,000 franchise restaurants such as Arby's, Burger King and McAlister's Deli. Sun did not reply for a request for comment on its Columbia plans.

Industrial upturn predicted

Increased demand for industrial buildings in the Columbia area plus a shortage of current sites means that more should be constructed soon, according to an analysis of the market from Colliers International-South Carolina. 

The greater Columbia market's rate of available industrial space is below 4 percent, according to the study written by Crystal Baker. Average rent costs rose 4 percent over the same time last year.

That should bring increased construction to meet demand in the coming quarters, according to the report, though only a few projects already are underway.

With new industrial buildings taking at least eight months to be available, it is likely that a boom in building construction to meet the high demand will extend well into next year, according to the report.

Village at Sandhill traffic relief

Traffic control improvements are coming to an intersection inside the Village at Sandhill that frequently has backed-up traffic and long waits, according to Richland County.

The county will install left-turn lanes in all directions and improve the timing of lights at the intersection of Forum and Fashion drives near the Two Notch Road entrance to the village.

The work will begin in early November and take place mostly at tight to minimize disruptions, according to a county statement. The intersection is one of three inside the village that are maintained by the county. 


Clothing retailer dd's Discounts will open its store in Columbia on Saturday. It has taken the space formerly occupied by Staples at Decker Boulevard and Trenholm Road. ... Often after a restaurant closes, another one will take the space since it has the right kitchen facilities configuration. But not every time. The longtime Fuddruckers restaurant location on Bush River Road has become part of the Columbia World Outreach Church. 

Have any Midlands business news to share in the column? Reach Mike Fitts at

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