Columbia, South Carolina Doesn't Need to Raze Fire Station

City officials say they no longer need to demolish the former fire department headquarters on Senate Street to provide parking for the planned convention center hotel.

City Council is set to vote Wednesday on whether to accept a bid to raze the structure, but the initial purpose for the demolition no longer exists, said Steve Gantt, senior assistant city manager.

We fully expect they will tell us to reject that bid and not demolish.

He said that means the city likely will put the property up for sale, but he could not say when that might happen.

Preservationists have said the building should be saved. It is across the street from the site of the future convention center hotel in the Vista, and several developers have offered proposals for renovating and reusing the 55-year-old structure.

Despite those appeals, the city sought bids for the buildings demolition about a month and a half ago, Gantt said.

The city began that process because it was not clear whether the area behind Damons restaurant would be available for hotel parking, he said. The city filed a notice to condemn the restaurants rights to a portion of the adjoining parking lot in July in order to build a parking deck.

The restaurants window of opportunity to oppose the condemnation passed last week.

The fire station site was a backup location for the parking deck, Gantt said.

While city officials said the site no longer is needed for parking, they stopped short of saying the building would be preserved.

No decision has been made, but the need to demolish the fire station for the purpose of parking for the convention center hotel does not exist now, Columbia Mayor Bob Coble said.

The mayor has said the station should be preserved.

Robin Waites, executive director of the Historic Columbia Foundation, said the fire station is ideal for rehabilitation and reuse.

Its a perfect place to have all the amenities to serve visitors to the hotel, she said.

The bottom floor would be suitable for retail space, with the top floor reserved for offices, she said. Its a beautiful transition of early 20th century architecture into the 1950s and an example of public architecture for that period.

Historic Columbia has recommended the city designate it a historic landmark. Also, the S.C. Department of Archives and History, the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Columbia Design League have advocated preserving the building.

Some City Council members have said the building is not old enough to be considered historic.

The building has been empty since 1995, when the fire department headquarters moved to Laurel Street.

Gantt said the city manager could reject the $170,000 demolition bid only one was submitted before Wednesdays meeting, meaning a council vote would not be necessary. Efforts to reach city manager Charles Austin Friday and Monday were unsuccessful.

Reach Drake at (803) 771-8692.

Distributed by the Associated Press