Compress Building Brings More News.

PalemettoCompressInteresting read about a building that has created quite a stir over the last decade or so. Some years ago I heard it was being rented out to different bands. I thought it was a pretty clever venue for local artists to get as loud as they wanted, and jam in a place that wouldn’t disturb anyone as they practiced in different bays in the building, inexpensively.

Of course, over the last two or three years, the building has been the subject of loads of scrutiny from citizens and tax hawks about how the purchase, and potential re-sale was handled. Fast forward to today – and the big building sort of between the Greek Village, and the USC Baseball Stadium is in the news again. I’m seeing phrases like “win-win,” and “over my dead body,” so this might be action on the way!

See below. Credit The State Newspaper for story. FJ

COLUMBIA SC — Columbia businesswoman Rosie Craig is partnering with deep-pocketed Philadelphia developer Ron Caplan to purchase the historic Palmetto Compress Warehouse building from the city of Columbia.

The developers plan to convert the 320,000-square-foot structure into apartments, retail and possibly a hotel, sources close to the project said.

The purchase, expected to close this week, is for approximately $6 million.

“We, as a company, are very excited about the project,” said Dan Rothschild, of Caplan’s PMC Property Group.

The city, through its Columbia Development Corp, purchased the century-old building for $5.65 million in 2013, using a line of credit controversially backed by employee health insurance reserve funds. Craig was awarded the bid in October of that year.

The profit from the sale covers the city’s expenses for securing the structure since the purchase and other outlays, Craig said.

The former cotton warehouse, on 4.7 acres along Devine Street at Pulaski Street, is the last vestige of the former Ward 1, a predominantly African-American neighborhood that has been razed by an expanding University of South Carolina.

The Palmetto Compress building had been slated for demolition after years of its longtime owners saying they could find no one able to redevelop it at a reasonable cost.

Edwards Communities Development Co. of Columbus, Ohio, for example, had planned to raze it for private student housing. The plan set off a roiling 2-year battle among the owners, the developers and preservationists that ended only when a divided City Council stepped in to save the historic warehouse, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The owner at the time, the late Henry Thomas, had applied and received the national register designation – which does nothing to prevent its demolition – in 1985 prior to the sale.

“A good project on that site would have demolished a part of our history,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin, who took intense political heat for advocating the city’s purchase of a building that many viewed as unusable. “The community did the right thing.”

Warehouse caused intra-city skirmishes

The dilapidated building was purchased in 1986 by a group called the Palmetto Preservation Corp.

The 15-member group, inspired by the efforts to turn the old Columbia Mills into what is now the S.C. State Museum, included such heavy hitters as engineering firm founder Wilbur Smith, the late former Gov. Robert McNair and businessman John Lumpkin.

The owners, in sometimes bitter clashes with preservationists, asserted that for 26 years they tried to market the property to developers, but none were willing to re-use the building because of the cost.

The fight also caused a rift between the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which backed the demolition and Historic Columbia, which helped lead the charge to save it.

The Edwards project went forward but at an adjacent site. The company is building 700 units on either side of the warehouse along Pulaski Street.

Benjamin noted that the Edwards project would have been a $40 million investment. Now, the Edwards housing project, to go up at an adjacent site, coupled with Caplan’s redevelopment of the warehouse totals nearly $100 million, the mayor said

“That’s a win all around,” he said.

Local developer wanted to preserve Ward 1’s history

Caplan, who developed the Olympia and Granby mills into apartments, will be the majority partner. His PMC Property Group is planning to convert the warehouse into a mixed use development, the majority of which will be one- two- and three- bedroom apartments, Rothschild said.

The apartments will not specifically be marketed to students, said development corporation executive director Fred Delk.

Caplan’s complex being constructed in front of the mill apartments is to be called 612 Whaley. His company has extensive holdings in the northeast, often, but not exclusively, converting historic structures for other purposes, according to the company’s website.

Delk credited Craig as being “the hero” in saving the building, willing to step up and take the lead in seeking a viable developer for the project and an innovative plan for re-use.

“Rosie did exactly what she said she was going to do,” he said.

Craig, who described herself as now “a very minor partner,” said she took on the project to preserve the Ward 1 history that the building represents.

“There’s a rich story that is captured in every historic building, and that is the story of the people,” she said. “It’s the story of a people who picked themselves up after (the) disaster (of the Civil War) dusted themselves off and went back to work.

“They were going to tear that building down over my dead body,” Craig said.

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