Public and private investment aiming to rejuvenate Main Street has been significant and sustained for years. For the record, I am pro-Columbia, so, when business took me to the Columbia area last Wednesday, I took advantage of the opportunity to attend an event titled, “Why Are You Here?”
The event, promoted (and organized?) by the state chapter of the Urban Land Institute, explored the question of Main Street’s identity as a fine and performing arts destination. The impending relocation of the state’s non-profit cinema, the Nickelodeon, to a once-and-future theater very near the Columbia Museum of Art spurred the discussion. (Click here to see the project.)
The event at the former Fox Theatre was poorly attended, but the enthusiasm of speaking panelists representing the arts was not dampened. The panel discussed topics ranging from Columbia’s status as a music scene to the attraction of Main Street as a place to set up shop.
The panelists noted that Columbia is a “tertiary” market for cutting-edge music tours. Among the reasons: events in Columbia do not draw because the city has no critical mass of nightlife and entertainment venues. Instead, the city is pegged to draw for popular country music acts and has-beens. (The exception: innovative jazz. Go figure.)
Business owners noted Main Street’s unique environment as a reason to invest in the location. They defended their decision in that their distinctive businesses (exclusive eyewear, acoustic music) necessitate distinctive destinations. For them, Main Street’s mix of historic buildings and high-rises stands apart – a unique place.
Recognition of Main Street Columbia as a destination throughout the broader community has been a question mark for at least a couple decades. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the city does not seem to have an identity as a strong music scene, with a place on the calendar for innovative acts. If the metropolitan area’s center is not a destination for its own citizens, how can one expect it to be so for outsiders?
But what of the jazz scene on South Main? The role of Five Points for nightlife, driven by the college crowd, is long-established. Panelists, moreover, noted the Vista’s niche as a visual arts destination (notably, with some adversarial consternation). Perhaps Main Street can be the missing link that ties the various districts together, each with a distinct role. Some leadership seems to exist: staff of the City Center Partnership was in attendance. One speaker noted the recent election of a forward-thinking mayor (Steve Benjamin). Their challenge: to reform the image of South Carolina’s capital city as a place and a destination.
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Tags: business, Columbia, coordination, identity, innovation, leadership, LinkedIn, sense of place, the arts, ULI, vision
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