Plans are under way for remodeling the Thomas G. Walton Building, the 22-year-old structure that houses the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Regional Economic Development Inc.
The building’s board of managers presented a proposal earlier this week to the City Council for the remodeling. The Chamber of Commerce and the city jointly own the building, and both parties are represented on the board of managers.
“We hope to remodel the interior and eventually the exterior,” Don Laird, chamber president, said. “Basically, we’ll be updating the technology in the building. This includes office furniture, carpeting and meeting rooms. We hope to make (the building) more functional and up to date.”
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed the updates are necessary.
“Our conference rooms are dated, and the technology in those rooms is dated, too,” Steiner said. “Most of the items in this building date back to 1987. We need advanced capabilities when it comes to audio and video, too. Storage space has become such a premium that we’ve had to rent storage. We literally have people working in closet space.”
The Walton Building was erected in 1986 and has not been remodeled since.
The building’s board of managers reviewed proposals from five design firms and voted to have John Simon and Associates develop the designs, which will cost an estimated $8,000.
“The proposal to the City Council allows us to move forward with that,” Steiner said. “Once we have the design plan and all the cost estimates, we’ll go back to the council and tell them how much we plan to spend.”
Laird said he hopes the interior remodeling will begin in a month or two.
The total cost for the remodeling project is estimated at $550,000. Because the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau occupies half the building, the city will be responsible for half the cost. Carpeting and reconfiguring the lobby to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act are expected to be some of the most expensive parts of the renovation.
“We’re not putting in gold faucets,” Steiner said. “To re-do the building after 20 years, many things have to be updated. It’s a fairly frugal budget in actuality. Any place we can use existing elements of the building, we’re using those.”
Lair said: “Our ultimate vision is to make a much more attractive and functional facility then we have now. This is one of the first places many people come to visit when they first arrive in Columbia, and we want to make sure it shows off our community’s best.”
The building is about 9,000 square feet, and the new configurations will aim to maximize space and utility. The board wants the updates to last about 10 years.
“The reason this location was chosen originally was because it served as a gateway to the university, the downtown area and the community. It’s important to have walk-in capability and parking. Those are big considerations, especially as the community grows,” Steiner said. “We thought about relocating and selling the building but decided that we really couldn’t think of a better location that would give us the same sort of presence.”
Laird said the cooperative arrangement between the city and the chamber has been good.
“We came together to put a good facility together, and now we just want to upgrade that facility for our visitors and users.”