Several months ago, the whine of power saws and the pounding of hammers echoed through empty space at 929 Gervais Street.
Now, diners chat at tastefully lit tables at 929 Kitchen and Bar. Several feet away, a cutout of Marilyn Monroe lures customers into candy and soda shop Rocket Fizz. Between the two businesses, construction continues on a barber shop expected to open in a few months, while upstairs, skylights illuminate the computer screens of workers at software company Cognito. Across the hall are the offices of clothing company R3Vive.
The remodeled, 10,600-square foot building is at 100% occupancy. Colliers International brokers J.P. Scurry, Scottie Smith, Paige Bryant and Mary Winter Teaster have represented landlord 929 Gervais LLC in transactions with the five tenants.
Scurry, Smith and Bryant leased the bottom three suites of the two-story building and Teaster found tenants for the two upstairs spaces. Colliers’ Real Estate Management Services division is handling property management for the building.
“It always takes longer than you think it will,” said Scurry, Colliers vice president. “It’s just a matter of timing, the right fits. When you can come in and split up a space or a building like this, you’re creating opportunities for multiple tenants. There are not that many people that can use 10,600 square feet. When you do that, you’re making it more usable for a number of different kinds of businesses. But then you have to find those puzzle pieces.”
Smith said tenants were attracted to the building’s prime location in the heart of the Vista as well as design touches such as exposed brick, high ceilings and chandeliers. There is also parking in back of the building, which features a tiled terrace.
Renovations were made using Bailey Bill historic tax credits, but while authentic touches remain, amenities such as the electrical system and plumbing have been modernized.
“I think it turned out well,” Scurry said. “It’s a good line between historically what the building looked like and having space that’s more functional for businesses of today.”
The building was among the few large commercial spaces still available in the center of the Vista. The renovated former fire station at the corner of Park and Senate streets, already home to two restaurants including Kao Thai Cuisine, has 4,000 square feet of retail space remaining, Smith said, with a 1,500-square-foot rooftop space also available.
“This has always been a strong retail/restaurant market,” Smith said. “I think what we’ve seen in the last five years is other areas of Columbia become strong competitors to it. I don’t think there’s a weak area of Columbia at this point. We’re seeing a lot of growth. We’re seeing a lot of activity.”
That includes ongoing development of downtown districts and a continuing spread of new businesses to Cayce and West Columbia, both of which have new breweries on tap. Brookland, a $40 million mixed-use development with up to 19,000 square feet of residential and retail space and featuring 225 one- and two-bedroom apartments and condos, welcomed its first residents in July. The development is just across the Gervais Street bridge at the corner of Meeting and Alexander streets.
“To continue to support this kind of development and these kinds of businesses, we want people living down here,” Scurry said. “In the past three to four years, there have been a lot of residential projects. We need that to continue. It’s supply and demand. You may get to the point where commercial gets a little overbuilt, or residential gets a little overbuilt. But having the people here to support the restaurants … I think a lot of the office companies that move down here are here because they like the restaurant environment, the retail environment. And I think they want opportunities for their employees to live here as well.”
Smith and Scurry said potential tenants look for different things when scouting property, and both agents and clients take existing area businesses into account.
“Every retailer is different in what they look at as far as who’s in close proximity and who they don’t want in close proximity,” Smith said. “It’s truly retail-driven. I’m not going to typically look at competing uses in the same project, but the retailers in the market tell us where they want to be based.”
Scurry said that sometimes businesses that may appear to be competitors on paper actually end up drawing customers to each other if they’re in the same genre but offer different amenities or products.
“Every retailer, restaurant, hotel – they all have different metrics that they use to analyze the market, and generally, they’re pretty sophisticated,” Scurry said. “They’re investing a lot of money and effort to open a location, so they’ll spent a good bit of time making sure there’s enough demand for the product.”
Smith and Scurry agree that demand for commercial retail space in the Columbia area shows no signs of slowing.
“Columbia is a good place to be,” Smith said. “We’re seeing that time and time again.”
This article first appeared in the Sept. 24 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report.