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Columbia Business Monthly

New Arts District Taking Shape

Feb 08, 2018 10:21AM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Rachel Haynie
Photography ©2018 Brian Dressler /

A sliver of prime urban property has become a solution to a multi-layered conundrum.

For one thing, if perception of The Vista were limited only to the grid transected by Gervais Street, then the popular arts and hospitality district would be tightly bound by the Congaree River and The Capital.

Fred Delk, executive director of nonprofit Columbia Development Corp. (CDC), has long touted a more expansive interpretation of The Vista.

How and where can The Vista expand?

An element in The Vista’s quarter-century success has been its definition as an arts destination. A second and recent conundrum has been the anticipated loss of Vista Studios/Gallery 80808.

Where can the working studios go after helping establish the district as an art mecca? Months before Vista Studio artists began packing to move, The Vista was officially designated an Arts District.

For more than 25 years, Molten and Lamar Architects generously leased artists 808 Lady St. spaces at affordable rental prices. As the architects’ retirement approached, the prime real estate came up for repurposing - at today’s commercial real estate rates.

“Dick Molten and Richard Lamar made a commitment to art back when Kirk Finley was mayor, which has turned out to be a long, enormous, and important commitment,” says Delk. “Even as Dick and Richard made known their plans for changes, they have been extremely flexible to extend the artists’ leases until an alternative came about.”

That alternative is new studio space, expected to catalyze The Vista’s forthcoming growth direction.

That’s where the sliver of land comes in.

Delk has been at the apex of the welcome solution, backed by CDC’s board of directors, “which chooses projects the organization will support, and without whom I could do nothing.”

Recognizing The Vista can expand, conceptually, by merely turning the Assembly Street corner and making its way down the Huger Corridor, Delk applied patience, tenacity, and an abiding knowledge of how the city works.

It took years, but he deftly brought others to see that further Vista development would follow the art, as it did initially.

The sliver is where Columbia Museum of Art (CMA) might have been sited if the corner of Main and Hampton streets, the heart of the Capital City, had not been offered.

The sliver remained undeveloped. For years.

Behind what now is One Eared Cow Glass and also Lewis + Clark, Clark Ellefson’s furniture and lighting design studio, that prime urban property has now realized its art destiny.

This month, Delk is waving into the new address, 413 Pendleton St., 10 of the city’s most prolific and publically-recognizable artists, formerly of Vista Studios.

Delk says, “They will have virtually the same amount of work and exhibit space they have had at 808 Lady St., although it will be configured differently. The entrance doubles as central gallery, wall space for exhibiting art will be spacious and well lit, and the kitchen-hospitality area is being designed by Ellefson.”

Months ago, artists began calling the new art workspace and visitor destination Stormwater Studios. The name is sticking - although Kinsler Creek appears on official documents.

Developers appropriately foresee the Kinsler Creek area ultimately linking to the ever-expanding Riverwalk system. Running along the sliver’s north boundary, the creek makes its way to close-by Congaree River, just a stroll beyond the new inner-city art center.

Designed by Studio2LR, and built by Buchanan Construction Services, half of the studios face this green oasis. Others, opening to a front courtyard, await landscaping. The outside areas, circled by an apron of paved walkways, extend the studio building’s creative space and lend themselves to a sculpture garden, outside work, visitation, and teaching, all spilling out into nature.

Because education is innate in Stormwater Studios’ purpose, one studio will be occupied by a University of South Carolina graduate student designated by the School of Visual Arts and Design.

“This partnership gives the University Art department an off-campus site and visibility they haven’t had within the broader community,” Delk says.

Long before the artists’ move began, a welcome mat was laid out. In place were creative neighbors: Lewis + Clark design studio and One-Eared Cow Glass.

Tommy Lockhart, owner of One-Eared Cow Glass, said the opening of Stormwater Studios artists will “draw attention to the arts community as a whole.”

A founder of Lewis + Clark, Ellefson was a Vista pioneer three decades ago. As often happens, after artists add their cultural quotient to an area’s desirability, real estate costs soar, pushing out the very people who made it desirable. About a decade ago, Ellefson staked a new claim on the Huger Corridor.

Kirkland Smith, president of Vista Studios, says, “Stormwater Studios will be home for artists – long after we are gone.”