…in the old Columbia Fire Station HQ. 🚒
When Lil’ Wayne sang “Fire, fa, fireman” in 2005, he probably wasn’t talking about the Columbia Fire Department Headquarters. But 13 years later, the former fire station in the Vista (across from Monterrey’s and Music Farm) is getting lit.
Two new restaurants are under construction there – plus an event space with a rooftop (🙌) and a retail/office space waiting to be filled. We got a sneak peek of the menus for each restaurant, some cool renderings + a video walk-through of the building.
Fireman’s pole included?
Built in 1949-50 by S.C. architect Heyward S. Singley, Columbia Fire Department was Cola’s central fire station for 44 years, housing 18 fire trucks (you can still see some cracked concrete outside of the building from the 20,000-pound fire trucks parked there for decades). The rear building served as a maintenance shop. The iconic, 6-story tower (used for training drills until the 2000s) was added in 1951. The building had offices; a kitchen; dorms, lockers + showers for 24 on-duty fire personnel; and until 1964, living quarters for the Fire Chief and his family.
The HQ was relocated due to growth (now HQ sits at 1800 Laurel St.). All fire station operations left the building in 1995. The City of Columbia used the building for storage for a little while. Then it was sold to a developer and sat empty for years. In 2009, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Wheeler Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc. (the current owner) bought the building in 2015.
The new Columbia Fire Station
Wheeler Real Estate, Lambert Architecture + Construction Services and SouthCon Building Group are now working together on Phase I of the project to redevelop the historic building into a mixed-use building for dining and retail/office:
Restaurant: Central Station, a classic French brasserie by restaurateur Sean Moore | 5,892 sqft.
Event venue: Upstairs at Central Station, a second-floor event venue/expansion of Central Station with outdoor rooftop patio space by restaurateur Sean Moore | 7,495 sqft.
Restaurant: Kao Thai Cuisine, a Thai restaurant by restaurateur Sunshine Cobb | 3,063 sqft.
Retail/office space: currently available for lease through Colliers | 4,422 sqft.
Phase I is privately-funded (the building was purchased by Wheeler + they got funding from Pinnacle Bank for the project) with help from the Bailey Bill, a City of Columbia incentive program for owners of historic buildings, which allows you to keep your building’s current assessed value at the same rate for 20 years.
Phase II of the project is still in the brainstorming phase. One of the main ideas for Phase II is a boutique hotel. The building owners will probably look for a joint venture partner for that phase of the project, and they may go after historic tax credits for the renovation/development.
The iconic training tower will stay – and ideas for it will be addressed in Phase II planning. You know that colorful paint dripping down it? The City says whatever the plan for the fire tower, the developers must remove the paint from it. The whole street artist vs. the govt. makes Cola feel like a big city, and I’m here for it.
Here’s what Phase II of the project would look like from a bird’s eye view: ⬇
What about parking, you ask? The space has several adjacent garages and metered street parking spots. Central Station will offer valet parking.
Central Station: oui, please
Central Station is the name of restaurateur Sean Moore’s new French brasserie (a French restaurant with a relaxed setting, serving single dishes + other meals – read: affordable), aiming to open in September. The 5,892-sqft., 150-seat restaurant will feature elevated booths, a private dining space, an oyster bar, a drinking bar, a lounge, an open kitchen, and upstairs in the event space, a true private chef’s table.
Outdoor patio seating will spill out of the open-air-convertible garage doors, and you’ll be able to see through a frosted-glass hole where the old fireman’s pole came through the ceiling, for firemen/women to slide down from the second floor to the first. Valet parking will be available.
Here’s what the space looks like now ⬇
And here are sketches of what it will look like when it’s finished ⬇
The menu will feature classic French dishes: steak frites, Bouillabaisse, a raw bar with oysters, mussels, crab + shrimp; all the staples. They’ll serve Saturday + Sunday brunch ft. brioche French toast, eggs benedict, etc. The bar will predominantly feature French wine. (A restaurant that Moore is drawing inspiration from had 30 bottles under $30; “one on every table.”)
Moore was the franchisee who brought Five Guys to Columbia, and he’s currently turning in the old Hooligan’s restaurant in Trenholm Plaza into BLD Diner, coming soon.
He says Columbia needs a French restaurant (it’s been a while), and when he saw this funky space, it was a no brainer. He wants to keep the authentic feel of the firehouse in the space, featuring historic photos of the old fire station in all its glory.
Stairs and an elevator lead up to the second story, which brings us to:
Upstairs at Central Station: party on the patio
Upstairs will be the 7,495-sqft., 20-350-person private event venue attached to the French restaurant: Upstairs at Central Station (working name). This space was the main working area of the old fire station and has a ton of big, original windows overlooking the Vista (which the developers are keeping). A lot of the original exposed brick will stay, as well.
The large space will be broken up into several distinct areas, including a smaller prep kitchen in the back left space, a chef’s table (usually an extra-private, extra-attentive seating option by reservation for special occasions/guests), a women’s bathroom + dressing area (big enough for wedding parties), men’s bathroom area with access to a private “smoking porch” overlooking Senate St., and a private, second-story rooftop patio with downtown views for outdoor/indoor parties. The patio seating options will be customizable per event.
Kao Thai Cuisine: Thai street food remix
Back on the first floor of the building, to the right of Central Station, will be Kao Thai Cuisine, a new, 3,063-sqft. Thai restaurant by the mother-daughter team of Gai Wilson and restaurateur Sunshine Cobb, who also owns Tamarind in Asheville. Executive Chef Boyd Leetrakul was born + raised in Thailand and is internationally trained.
Kao Thai Cuisine is being built-out currently ⬇ + aims to open in May.
Cobb says Kao Thai Cuisine will serve authentic + modern Thai cuisine with a variety of Pan-Asian influences in a casual yet upscale atmosphere. The menu will combine the bold flavors of Thai street food with fresh, local ingredients. The menu borrows a few staples from sister-restaurant Tamarind’s menu, like Classic Pad Thai and Crispy Duck Red Curry, but also offers new creations like the Basil Lamb Chop and Ginger Soy Scallops. It will also feature a rotating board of chef’s specials, a brunch menu, and possibly a late night small-plate menu. (Double yes.) They’ll have a full bar ft. signature cocktails, Asian beers, and wine + sake options.
This is what Kao Thai Cuisine will look like when it’s finished ⬇
Kao means “rice” in Thai, and serves as a tribute to the Asian grain (specifically the jasmine rice grain which is indigenous to Thailand). Rice plays an important role in all aspects of Asian life, traditions, and culture – and Cobb says the restaurant plans to bring a glimpse of Thai culture to Columbia. They’re currently searching for a General Manager and will begin hiring for all positions in late March.
Watch a video tour of the whole space ⬇
I just learned that “fire station” in French is “caserne de pompiers,” so you can catch me out on the patio when Central Station opens, telling my friends to come meet me there – in French. I’ll work on my pronunciation in the meantime.