West Columbia has big plans for revitalization

BY ISABELLA CUETO via thestate.com

WEST COLUMBIA, SC – West Columbia is taking steps to breathe new life into key parts of the city.

Plans call for bringing public art, streetscapes, facade improvements, housing and business to West Columbia while increasing community involvement and economic development.

It’s the latest chapter in the city’s efforts to bring development across the river from Columbia’s booming Vista. As early as 2004, Mayor Bobby Horton told The State he wanted the growth to cross over into West Columbia.

Now, Horton said, the city has a road map from a Florida-based firm that specializes in redevelopment projects. RMA assessed the city’s needs by talking to citizens and business owners. On Monday, the West Columbia City Council approved the plan.

The goal is to reshape some historic areas, create niche identities for each community and to connect all those communities.

A notable component is the focus on developing District 5, a historically black, low-income area full of rental properties and not many jobs.

The district was a product of segregation and, after that, had a main highway — Jarvis Klapman Boulevard — built through the heart of it. Many people drive through District 5 to get other places, but not into it.

As a result, the area has remained “stagnant” and the city has not paid much attention to trying to develop it, either, city leaders say. The hope, council member Tem Miles said, is to attract private investment.

“Everyone agrees that the status quo is not acceptable,” he said.

The plan, which is estimated to cost more than $28 million, includes efforts in nine areas of the city:

  • Riverfront district
  • Capitol Square
  • House of Raeford area, site of a chicken processing plant
  • Meeting Street corridor
  • Triangle City
  • Colite
  • Lakeview
  • I-26 and U.S. 378/Sunset Boulevard
  • U.S. 378 corridor between I-26 and I-20

Information distributed at public information meetings hosted by the city includes guidance on attracting new business and offering incentives to residents to improve their neighborhoods.

In the Riverfront district, the recommendations are to connect Capitol Square and Meeting Street with a walkway, enforce anti-blight ordinances, continue sprucing up area businesses and create more green spaces by demolishing deteriorated properties. Also on the list is hosting events with pop-up shops.

In Lakeview, a streetscaping plan to improve the main visitor areas would be crafted and implemented. An RMA official said the area already has an “asset,” a large industrial kitchen. The kitchen could be used in off-hours for cooking classes and a “food incubator” for aspiring culinary professionals.

RMA’s plan calls for a center for performing arts in both Lakeview and the Colite districts.

Even the House of Raeford chicken plant, an old neighbor and economic boon often maligned for its sights and smells, could get a facelift. By working with the owners, the city would add public art to the front of the plant. The plans also include steps to improve pedestrian safety at the plant, as well as its waste management.

Three of the nine areas — Triangle City, the Colite property and Lakeview — would be turned into special tax districts called TIFs, according to the plan.

In simple terms, creating a TIF district means the city is betting those areas will develop, which would increase property tax revenue. All of that extra tax revenue — including that which would go to the schools — would be spent on improvements in the tax district. For the tax plan to move forward, the Lexington 2 school board and Lexington County Council would have to agree.

Along with the redevelopment recommendations, RMA also was asked to create a community revitalization plan, what Miles called “spiritual redevelopment.” That part includes initiatives to get residents more engaged: starting mentorship programs in underserved areas, creating more mixed-income and family housing and equipping police with resources for community policing.

Getting the people who live in areas prime for development to feel invested in the improvements is key, Miles said.

“You can have the nicest sidewalks in the world inside of a ghost town and nobody’s going to appreciate them,” he said.

Although the city has accepted RMA’s plan, it will take time for all of the changes to be completed. Miles said full implementation will take 20 to 25 years.

City officials said residents can still comment on the plan by attending city council meetings and work sessions. The next council work session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19 at city hall (200 North 12th St., West Columbia). The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Read original article on thestate.com