Bull Street trees

Officials say as many as 70 trees were recently removed from the BullStreet site as preparations are made for the construction of the REI Co-op store and for additional road work in the site.

If you’ve ridden by the BullStreet project recently, you no doubt noticed something was missing.

Trees. Big ones. Lots of them.

And based on news reports, if you’re walking down the 1300 block of Main Street sometime in the near future, you’ll no doubt notice something is missing there as well.

An old brick building. A two-story one with a great facade. Long home to the House of Fabrics, a touchstone memory for generations of mothers and daughters.

Of course, the days when dresses were commonly made at home are long gone, as are the days when the State Lunatic Asylum was a heavily wooded tract full of architecturally beautiful buildings not in ruins.

But while the roles and futures of these places may have changed, does that mean we should be wiping out the urban forest at BullStreet and knocking down a once distinguished brick building on Main Street?

I think not. But it’s too late to debate that, which is the point of this column.

I don’t know about you, but I heard nothing about either the clearcutting at BullStreet or the coming demolition on Main Street until both were a fait accompli.

By the way, the literal definition of that term is: “a thing that has already been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.” Pretty much nails it, huh?

Accordingly, the powers that be — especially the developers and Columbia City Council, failed us in these matters.

Rather than the stealth and suddenness which marked those recent revelations, there should have been advance public knowledge and the opportunity for public input about both the clearcutting at BullStreet and the impending demolition on Main Street.

And that’s not to say either could or would have been stopped. The various entities supporting and/or not objecting to those actions may have presented good arguments and won support, clearing the way for consensus rather than conflict.

But they didn’t. Instead, they went the aforementioned fait accompli route, leaving us to hear about the clearcutting after it was already done and about the impending demolition after it was already in the works. And also leaving us to wonder about what they were up to with the secretive approach.

When it comes to either preservation or demolition of old structures or old trees (especially big stands of them), that’s not the way the decision should be made and implemented.

Worse yet, I thought we were past the “tear it down” approach in Columbia. While our city lost much of its pre-civil war history when General Sherman came calling, today we have no one to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing historically valuable and naturally beautiful elements of the post-1865 era.

And we’d been doing so much better. Indeed, when news of the demolition on Main Street broke on the Free Times website, reaction was quick and extensive.

While some on social media noted that the building had been vacant for several years and was supposedly beyond repair, many others objected to the “demolition by neglect” strategy that is sometimes utilized with old buildings.

But by far the most informative and meaningful comment came from Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corporation, who posted this:

“Other buildings that ‘couldn’t be repaired’: Publix on Gervais, Palmetto Compress Warehouse, 701 Whaley, The Big Apple, SC Armory on Assembly, Lambert Design in the Vista. It took me a few seconds to come up with that list.”

Well said, Fred. And the list goes on.

Indeed, as an investor who joined with a group of attorneys and historic developer Robert Lewis to bring the 1902 Granby-Olympia Mills Administration Building back to life in 2006 (in the process becoming the first occupants of the now fully restored mills complex), I’m happy to have played a small role in preserving a big element of Columbia’s history.

And we should fight for that history, whether it’s big trees at BullStreet, an old brick building on Main Street or other battles yet to come. Progress does not always have to mean destruction.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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