|By Jeff Wilkinson, The State, Columbia,
S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 07, 2012--Columbia City Council today is expected to take a final vote on a hotel project that could reshape the Vista's skyline.
But opponents of a plan to build a six-story Hyatt Place hotel on Gervais Street near Lincoln Street -- the heart of Columbia's popular arts and entertainment district -- say the building is too tall, blocking some Vista residents' view of the State House. They say that it is also unfair to the five-story hotels surrounding it.
Approval, which is expected, could bring on a lawsuit from the owners of the nearby Hilton Columbia Center and Hampton Inn hotels, who have retained an attorney to challenge the special zoning they say allows the Hyatt to build higher. Other downtown hotels, such as the Clarion and Springhill Suites, also have expressed opposition to the Hyatt's height.
"My clients will await the outcome before deciding any 'next step,' but at this point are not ruling out any options to get fair treatment in this matter," attorney Toby Ward said in an email. "I can go on record to say my clients view judicial intervention as the least desirable of options."
The hotel is planned for land between Lincoln Street and the railroad cut owned by the Miller Valentine Group. Miller Valentine cleaned up the former SCE&G coal gas plant site with a federal grant, while at the same time converting the former Columbia Supply building into their corporate headquarters and a deli.
The company's effort to build an office and retail development on the site in 2007 collapsed with the economy, and the site is now being developed by Noble Investment of Atlanta.
Efforts to reach Miller Valentine and Noble Investment officials were unsuccessful Monday.
The hotel would be taller than surrounding buildings, which are about 50 feet tall, and compete with the Adluh flour mill as the Vista's tallest building.
City Council members on July 17 voted 5-0 to allow the Hyatt; but, Councilman Brian Newman, who represents the Vista, was not in attendance. Efforts to reach Newman were unsuccessful.
The hotel plan had previously been approved by both the city design commission and planning commission. The city's staff also recommended the hotel be allowed, saying there are no hard and fast height restrictions in the Vista, and that the project conforms to a planned unit development approved twice by the design and planning commissions.
Tony Tam, general manager of the Hilton and Hampton Inn, said he is not opposed to the hotel per se. "We just want it to be five floors, which is what we were restricted to," he said.
The city has asked the owners of the Hilton Columbia Center and Hampton Inn to show records that they had been prevented from building higher.
Some Vista residents also oppose the building.
"They are taking a six-story, suburban-style hotel and jamming it into the Vista," said Steve Hinson, a health insurance marketer who lives in the Printer's Square condominium building on Lady Street near Publix. Hinson bought his fourth-floor condo for about $400,000.
"People are afraid they will lose their views of the capitol and they will lose their property values," he said.
The project has the support of the Vista Guild and businesses that would benefit from more heads on beds downtown. But the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism hasn't taken a stand. The authority operates the Columbia Regional Convention Center, a block and half away from the site. While the center would benefit from having more hotel rooms in the area, which could drive down rates from the Columbia area's average $72.28, it also is charged with filling existing rooms and keeping occupancy rates high.
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