With assistance from the South Carolina Department of Transportation, the University of South Carolina is working on a new streetscape project centered around Columbia’s South Main Street. The program aims to invigorate the area with new bike lanes, wider sidewalks, trees and more.
The project came from a survey conducted in 2017 with the hope of bringing about private sector development on Main Street between the Statehouse and Blossom Street.
"I would say it was really more the university's idea that started it," Derek Gruner, university architect and associate vice president of facilities planning, design and construction, said. "The University of South Carolina cares very much about their architectural fabric, the way that the buildings look and the way that the ground and the courtyards and the green spaces all tie everything together."
The university owns a lot of the land around South Main Street, which could become an opportunity for more businesses to come to the area. Gruner says that if the university builds on a parking lot, they will add additional parking somewhere else.
"We don't typically sell our property, but the first couple blocks up near Pendleton Street are opportunities for private development to come in," Gruner said. "We would even be mindful that that might be a good place to put some food service or a little bookstore or something that is more retail-oriented, even if it's something that the university has."
The project is being funded by a federal grant known as a 20/80 match, meaning the university puts forward 20% of the funds while the federal government supplies the other 80%, with aid from the SCDOT.
“It’s really quite beneficial to the local community because so many of the dollars came from federal transportation grants,” Gruner said.
However, when contracts for the plan went up for bid, construction prices began to increase, and the allotted funds were not able to cover the projected costs.
According to SCDOT’s financial documents, in total, the department is spending nearly $20 million on this project for different aspects like pipe and sewer relocation. They are also adding a bike lane, a bike rack, crosswalks and a pedestrian ramp, which have contributed to rising costs, in addition to many small projects dedicated to landscaping.
Construction is set to gradually begin during the spring 2023 semester, with initial work focusing on trenching for utilities, according to Gruner.
“It’s not going to be like immediately you’re going to see the whole street full of backhoes, they’re going to more or less work kind of one block at a time,” Gruner said.
Concerns about the aesthetic of the street were on the minds of local business owners such as Rod Reed, owner of Immaculate Consumption, a coffee shop located on Main Street. Reed figured that a street so close to the heart of the city should not have taken so long to beautify.
“It’s always been puzzling to me that this section of the street, which is right next to the capital and connected to the university, has always looked so terrible,” Reed said.
Reed also thinks the project will increase pedestrian traffic, which is good for business.
"If it's more beautified, people might be wandering down here, walking the sidewalk," Reed said.
The development also hopes to dispel the feeling that the area does not fit in with the surrounding the university community.
“Main Street is actually very close to the heart of our campus geographically,” Gruner said, “When even a student walks out to that Main Street, they feel that they’re in a different place, it doesn't feel like the campus — it’s not green, it feels a little rough,” Gruner said.
However, those behind the project hope that once it is complete, it will be beneficial for Columbia in the long term.
“An investment like this lives for decades, really for centuries, because there will be development on this street in the coming decades that will be sort of catalyzed or spurred on by this roadway project,” Gruner said.