No Solutions In Sight for Devine Street’s Flood-Damaged Businesses

The TitleMax/Liberty Tax Service building on Devine Street remains a shell on the bank of Gills Creek after a historic flood in Columbia. 

The owner of the damaged building most identified with Columbia’s historic 2015 flood is suing the owner of an adjacent shopping center in a dispute over road access that has halted potential redevelopment of the site next to Gills Creek. 

The blue-roofed building on Devine Street that housed an auto title loan and tax preparation businesses stands ravaged more than a year after the creek swelled to nearly 20 feet in the once-in-a-1,000-year storm. More than 30,000 motorists pass by the dilapidated building each day. 

The building’s owner, Chastain Sample Columbia Group of Port St. Lucie, Florida, has found a buyer who wants access to the site through a road on property belonging to the owner of the shopping center that includes the “Gamecock” Bi-Lo grocery store, according to the lawsuit. 

Chastain identifies the potential buyer only as “a reputable and established local development team” in the lawsuit.   

Chastain says building owners have used the road off the main driveway into the shopping center property for more than 20 years, but efforts to gain access after the storm have been fruitless, according to the complaint. 

Despite Chastain's offers to share maintenance costs, the shopping center’s owner, Laurens-based Delta Devine, “has unfortunately proven uncooperative and resistant to reasonable proposals,” Chastain says in its complaint, which seeks to use the short paved road. 

Delta has placed a barrier in front of the road, cutting off access to the rear of building. The only other way to reach the building is a small parking lot in front that is accessible from Devine Street. 

Efforts to reach Delta Devine officials were unsuccessful. 

Chastain’s efforts could rid Columbia of a lingering memory of a storm that killed nine people in Richland County, including a motorist who drowned after driving into a flooded roadway near his building.    

After the storm, the building’s blue roof was all that could be seen from flood waters covering the intersection of Devine Street and Crowson Road. 

Chastain’s property is valued at $445,000 after the storm, according to Richland County tax records, about one-third of the $1.2 million that the building owner has said he invested. 

“I remain hopeful that we can resolve this matter without having to go to court but we are prepared to do so if necessary,” building owner Owen Chastain said in a statement to Free Times.

Across Devine Street, another two businesses also remain empty and damaged more than a year after the massive flood. They are under demolition orders, Columbia city officials say.

The owner of a Subway restaurant is working with the city on a plan to knock down his building in preparation to replace it.

Owner Thakker Yogesh says he needs to win city approval on parking before making an expected $240,000 in repairs needed to reopen by the summer.

Next door, the Charleston-based owners of a separate auto title loan business are appealing a city board decision that could prevent redevelopment. 

Owners say their damage estimate would allow repairs, while the city contends the building sustained too much damage. The demolition order is on hold while the legal battle continues, city officials and a lawyer for the building owner say.

In the meantime, all three the buildings persist as de facto monuments to the 2015 flood.

“It’s just part of the process,” said Allen Bullard, an  attorney for owners of the title loan building.

Andy is editor of Free Times and Columbia bureau chief for The Post and Courier. He has worked at The State where he covered politics, higher ed, business and sports. He's also worked at The Charlotte Observer and The Sun News in Myrtle Beach.