Columbia City Council has given an initial approval on a measure that could make way for the construction of a new hotel over top of the parking garage at the corner of Lady and Assembly streets.
First reading was unanimously approved July 16 on an ordinance that would authorize City Manager Teresa Wilson to execute an air rights development contract with Breakwater Real Estate and Columbia developer Charles Barkley for the air rights above the Lady Street parking garage. City paperwork indicates the development would be a “fully taxable hotel.”
District 4 Councilman Daniel Rickenmann tells Free Times the city put out a request for proposals in regard to development above downtown garages. He says developers plan to add two more floors of parking at Lady Street, in addition to the hotel. Assistant City Manager Missy Gentry says the hotel itself could be three or four stories high.
The finer details of the would-be hotel have yet to be revealed. Barkley notes the project is still in its beginning stages.
“We’re excited to create a template for public-private partnerships in Columbia," Barkley said in a statement. "This concept is meant to serve the needs of downtown businesses, the university, state government, Fort Jackson, and our growing tourism industry. The City of Columbia has been incredibly supportive. Together, we have an opportunity to present a truly collaborative, universally beneficial project that has the potential to transform the city and our community.”
Gentry says, assuming the city gives final approval for the air rights at its next meeting, the developers would then do a feasibility study and structural analysis for the project.
Columbia has been flirting with the idea of private developments on top of city garages for years. It began formally exploring the idea in the fall of 2014, and in 2015 Council granted air rights above all six downtown garages — Cannon Garage, Lincoln Street Garage, Lady Street Garage, Park Street Garage, Taylor Street Garage and Washington Street Garage — to Hallmark Homes International and developer Don Tomlin. The idea at the time was that there would be private vertical development, such as residential housing, above the garages.
However, such development was slow to materialize. In November 2017, Council voted to terminate its air rights contract with Hallmark for all city garages except for the Taylor Street Garage, which is located at the corner of Taylor and Assembly streets. To date, there hasn’t been development over top of any of the downtown garages since the city first became enamored with the idea in 2014.
But now that may change, with the possibility of a hotel over the Lady Street Garage.
A big part of the allure of private vertical development above the city garages is that it could, theoretically, be an economic boost for the city. The city’s garages in the central business district represent large pieces of prominent property that, because they are owned by the local government, are not on the tax rolls. However, if the city were to allow the air rights over the parking garages to be privately developed, those developments could be placed on the tax rolls.
Rickenmann has, of late, lamented in city meetings that there is a lack of “cranes in the sky” in Columbia. Essentially, he wants to see more development in the Capital City at a time in which unemployment is low and the national economy has been humming.
He says he likes the idea of a hotel above the Lady Street Garage and the idea of “going vertical.”
“Something we haven’t done a whole lot of in Columbia is encourage vertical growth,” Rickenmann says. “For us, it’s better if somebody goes vertical, because the infrastructure’s already in place. So, you’re adding very little cost if you add more floors, versus adding more square footage across a new lot. … I think encouraging vertical growth is a way that will keep our costs down, because you can do that where infrastructure’s already in place.”
Rickenmann notes a hotel also could be a “triple header” for the city in terms of tax revenue, in that it could generate property, accommodations and hospitality taxes.
At-large Councilman Howard Duvall also is in favor of the hotel idea, particularly in a time in which the city has been exhaustively exploring options for more revenue.
“I think it’s an innovative concept, to be able to put a taxable property on top of a garage,” Duvall says.
Gentry says that, after years of circling the idea of air rights development above its garages, the city is enthused about the Lady Street garage possibility.
"This project is really exciting," Gentry says. "You see all the hotels [in development] around town. There is a demand for that. The thought of having a hotel with a view down toward the Vista, in the middle of it all, is really an incredible opportunity."