About those parking garages…

A colleague (not anyone with The State) asked me this morning what I thought about that parking garages story in The State Sunday morning:

Exclusive | USC garages $4 million in the red

Two parking facilities underutilized

By WAYNE WASHINGTON – wwashington@thestate.com

The University of South Carolina has spent $4 million over the last three years to cover deficits at a pair of underutilized parking structures built to serve the school’s Innovista research campus.

And it could be another half-dozen years before the garages break even, bringing in as much money as they cost the university each year in debt payments.

Combined, the Horizon garage on Main Street and the Discovery garage on Park Street bring in roughly $764,000 a year less in parking revenue than they were expected to generate, according to figures provided by the university.

USC contractually is pledged to use its “best efforts” to cover $1.4 million a year in debt payments on the two garages…

I had to confess I hadn’t read past the top of it, because it didn’t tell me anything new. I mean, we’ve been over this ground before, many times, right? I mean, the reason so many of y’all spit on the ground every time “Innovista” gets mentioned is because USC made the mistake of building those buildings right as the economy was about to crash — causing them to be under-occupied, and therefore for the parking garages attached to be underutilized.

I guess the news in this — the “Exclusive” news — is that there are some actual numbers attached to what we already knew. I guess.

I mean, this is the same ground I covered, yet again, in an exchange with Doug this morning. In an effort to rain on the Nephron parade, Doug wrote:

I really hope this doesn’t turn into another Innovista marketing hype venture like so many of the announcements made by USC over the past few years…

Of course, Doug was trying to head off exactly what I DO say about the Nephron deal, which is that it is one small step in the direction of success for Innovista. I responded to him thusly:

Let me say it again:
Innovista is not about those buildings.
Innovista is not about those buildings.
Innovista is not about those buildings.
Innovista is not about those buildings.
It just isn’t.

I curse the day those buildings were conceived, because they distracted everyone from what the Innovista concept is. It’s about all sorts of investments that will take place in all sorts of physical locations, mostly centered in an area bounded by the new baseball field and the State Museum along the river, and then up to Assembly Street — but NOT limited by that. It’s about leveraging that proximity to the University to promote high-tech development throughout the Midlands. Some will locate in the Innovista proper; some won’t.

As Innovista succeeds, many large and small investors will invest in all sorts of ways in infrastructure — from existing buildings to new. And the types of investors will include living space, restaurants and retail stores for the people who work in the research-related businesses there.

That’s IF it succeeds. Which is hard to do when so many people spit on the ground every time its name gets mentioned.

This IS a case of Innovista succeeding, by the way — one step in the right direction. A business first got involved with USC through Innovista, and is now expanding its business in our area, producing jobs that pay well. This is one of a number of ways that one would expect Innovista to contribute to our economy.

Back to the garages story. For me, the pertinent part, the real perspective on this, comes at the bottom, when Wayne quotes Don Herriott, the guy hired to clean up the Innovista effort after the last guy got pushed out the door:

… Don Herriott, director of Innovista, said the two 110,000-square-foot buildings already constructed are 40 percent occupied by researchers.

One of those buildings should be 60 percent occupied by early next year, Herriott said. The other should be 100 percent occupied in two to three years.

The economic downturn, which struck as the university was moving forward with Innovista, has made it difficult to get the other two buildings planned constructed, Herriott said.

Those buildings still could be erected at some time in the future, Herriott said. But rather than stick with its original, expansive vision of Innovista, USC officials are moving forward with a stripped-down plan that focuses more on selling the benefits of having a high-tech corridor and moving researchers into existing space.

“ ‘If you build it, they will come’ is not a business strategy,” Herriott said when he was hired last year.

Last week, Herriott said Innovista is coming together.

“It’s prime real estate,” he said. “There are people who want to have close proximity to the university.”

That’s the real perspective. That’s what’s happening here. And for my part, I look forward to Innovista — the real Innovista, not those stupid buildings — continuing to take off, to the point at which the $4 million shortfalls will look like a very small price to have paid.

9 thoughts on “About those parking garages…

  1. Steven Davis

    I’m back just to comment on this article.

    “Don Herriott, director of Innovista, said the two 110,000-square-foot buildings already constructed are 40 percent occupied by researchers”

    He should have been a little clearer, those researchers are USC employees. They aren’t outside contractors or companies. The 40% occupancy is with people who were already here, or in other words, “no new jobs”.

    Moore is the one who should have stayed at USC and Pastides is the one who should have left.

  2. Doug Ross

    Define “occupied”. Occupied by moving other USC staff into the building? How many net new jobs has Innovista created?

    Here’s the difference between you and me – you look at the claims about the future and assume they will be true, I look at the results and assume the trend will continue.

    This quote means far more than the projections of the guy who is paid to make Innovista 2.0 a success:

    “And it could be another half-dozen years before the garages break even, bringing in as much money as they cost the university each year in debt payments.”

    It’s really a shame that you can’t absorb what it means to lose millions of dollars on a project. Those are dollars lost that could have gone to fix many issues in Columbia.

  3. Mark Stewart


    I completely agree with you about the larger vision of an Innovista tying the university to the town. But to dismiss the physical construction that occured as just a bit of folly is not fair to either the taxpayers or to the next public/private development proposal that may have more merit and deserve a real chance of proving itself – and which, because of Innovista, will never get a fair hearing.

    No one should call the Innovista that was built as anything other than incompetant. It was not the sinking real estate market that doomed the project; it was it’s clear stupidity and hubris. Construction using public dollars often does need to come first – to a degree – in these sorts of projects. Innovista took this to a whole other level, however, building both public buildings and both garages in one fell swoop. It was almost as if many people did realize what a colassal gamble this was and therefore “conspired” to get it all built before anyone woke up to what was going on (though to be fair, it was probably more like drinking the kool-aide than conspiring in some nefarious sense).

  4. Doug Ross

    You know what USC could really do to help the economic development of the region? How about allowing graduates who end up with a 3.0 or better GPA and cannot find a job in their chosen field get free tuition for grad school?

    Now that would be a REAL investment that could generate a lot of economic impact.

  5. `Kathryn Fenner

    Oooh, Doug–free grad school for me!

    I noted with pleasure that commercial activity seems to be picking up a bit along Devine Street. Maybe Columbia is turning the corner.

  6. `Kathryn Fenner

    I just got back from a long weekend at Mansfield Plantation outside Georgetown. Thanks for asking.I would have enjoyed Karen Brosius, I think.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *