A Day in the Life

Columbia welcomes Agape to Main Street

Agape Senior to relocate headquarters to 1600 block of Main Street

Agape Senior plans to build an annex and plaza at the rear of the Kimbrell's Building on Main Street to serve as it employee entrance. The plaza and annex is between the building and the city's new $11 million, five-story parking garage.

Columbia's resurgent downtown will get another major boost in the coming year when Agape Senior, one of the state's largest health-care providers for seniors, will move its corporate headquarters to three buildings in the 1600 block of Main Street.

The company also will open a vegan café, a 24-hour public fitness center, pharmacy and other enterprises in the buildings, which are across from Mast General Store and the new Nickelodeon Theater.

Agape Senior, now headquartered in West Columbia, will take over 43,000 square feet of space at 1614, 1620 and 1626 Main St. – buildings once home to Kimbrell's Furniture, Schulte's Department Store and Main & Taylor Shoes.

"Being a part of downtown and bringing those old buildings back to life are important to us," said Agape founder and chief executive Scott Middleton, 53. "Our staff is very excited about moving there and being able to shop and walk to restaurants during the day."

The $8 million renovation project is the most recent installment in Main Street's renaissance.

In addition to Mast and the Nick:

•  New stores and restaurants, including Something Special Florist and The Oak Table, are filling in the now-bustling street.

•  The Brennen Building – the oldest on Main Street, built shortly after much of the city burned during the Civil War – finally is being restored.

•  The city has started an all-local farmers market that operates on Main on Saturdays.

And Main Street boosters are gearing up for their second annual New Year's Eve celebration, complete with an outdoor ice rink and Jakob (son of Bob) Dylan's band, The Wallflowers.

'Something different for Columbia'

Mayor Steve Benjamin said the Agape project, which takes up nearly half of the 1600 block, from the Tapps Arts Center south, will continue that momentum.

"It brings a wonderful, diverse, around-the-clock user to downtown Columbia," he said. "It's a big deal."

The new complex will flank a landscaped alley leading from Main Street to the new $11.3 million, 532-space parking garage, at the northwest corner of Taylor and Sumter streets. A new plaza and annex – to be built on the back of the Schulte's Department Store building at 1620 Main St., adjacent to the parking garage – will serve as the entrance to Agape's corporate offices.

Lee Mashburn of Mashburn Construction, which is renovating the three buildings, said the alley will be a unique, secure conduit through the complex.

"It's something different for Columbia," said Mashburn, whose company also renovated Main Street buildings for Mast and The Nick. "It has a really urban feel."

Agape will lease about 90 spaces in the new five-story garage for its employees. It will receive the first month on that lease free and a 50 percent discount on the parking spaces for the first year. The same discount is available to any new business that locates or builds downtown and needs more than 50 spaces, said city parking director John David Spade.

The company also will pay the monthly rate for out-of town employees coming to its complex for training – which could number several hundred a month, Spade said.

"The city and the mayor heavily marketed us to move down there," Middleton said. "I probably wouldn't have looked if (Mast and The Nick) hadn't gone in down there. And we wouldn't be there without the parking garage."

In addition to parking discounts, the project is eligible for façade grants for up to $20,000 per building and state historic tax credits for renovation, city officials said.

The firm will move about 100 of its headquarters staff into the Kimbrell's building, which will be outfitted with offices and a 250-seat auditorium and a 3,000-square-foot conference center to train the company's 1,900 employees. The company also plans to have a pharmacy and doctor's offices in the building.

Middleton expects the fitness center and Good Life Café to open in the spring with the headquarters staff following by late summer. The architect for the project's exterior is Lambert Architecture of West Columbia and the interior architect is CJMW Architects of Lexington.

'We're all over the state'

As an ordained Methodist minister, Middleton frequently visited elderly parishioners at long-term care facilities. Those visits led Middleton eventually to change his vocation, founding Agape Senior in 1999 after buying a small assisted-living facility in West Columbia.

Since then, Agape has grown to nine assisted-living facilities, three post-acute-care nursing centers and the state's largest provider of hospice services, caring for more than 1,800 residents and patients, according to a release.

Middleton also has expanded the business into home-medical equipment, primary care, pharmacy, ambulance services, real estate and insurance services, catering, health-and-fitness centers, and, recently, a home-care subsidiary.

The company's annual payroll is more than $32 million.

"We're all over the state – from the Upstate to Charleston," he said. "So it was important to me that our corporate support staff can access all of our facilities from a central location."

By JEFF WILKINSON

© 2012 TheState