25 Feb

A Marriage of Equals

Columbia, SC Combines Two Clubs Into One Stunning City Hub

You might call it an arranged marriage — the consolidation of The Summit Club in Columbia, SC and The Palmetto Club, its across-the-street competition. Different in culture and atmosphere, The Summit Club was largely a business club, attracting a younger membership than The Palmetto Club, from its perch on the 20th floor. The Palmetto Club’s low-rise, stately brick façade conjures a classic Southern estate and was designed as a place for business leaders and their families to entertain and relax largely post-workday.

But marry they did. The why is a bit more straightforward than the many nuances the clubs faced in becoming as one:  financial viability.  Both clubs were undergoing planning processes (Chambers was initially working with The Palmetto Club), looking at their best options going forward. As they both reviewed their respective outlooks and the make-up of downtown Columbia, it became increasingly apparent that the clubs would be much stronger as one entity, versus competing for membership. (This conversation — or ones like it — are going on at city clubs across the country.  See City Clubs — Not What They Used to Be .)

The clubs’ ultimate decision to consolidate into The Palmetto Club’s space and expand from there also came down to a pretty simple financial equation:  The Palmetto Club owned its building, The Summit Club did not.

Consolidated Experience
The “new” club would retain The Palmetto Club name, but how to combine the two clubs, make spaces — and room — for an age-diverse membership, and assess all the physical assets took a lot of careful consideration and painstaking decision-making. And, certainly, it will all take some getting used to from members of both clubs. Initial reactions from members have been very positive — and membership has stabilized after years of stagnation or decline.

Consolidating space and member experience, and retooling the new club to meet the now-expanded need entailed:

  • The purchase and adjoining of a building next to The Palmetto Club to enable the addition of meeting spaces and the Tap Room, a street-level casual dining and bar space that was designed to be more appealing to multiple generations of members and their guests
  • Consolidation of art and other physical assets. “We took the best of both clubs,” says Chambers Chairman Bob Hickman, who led the interior design effort for the new Palmetto Club. “Most of the pieces we ultimately selected — furnishings, art, decorative pieces — were significant in some way to one club or the other,” he says. (A Chambers team went in and photographed every individual piece owned by both clubs, catalogued them, and worked with both clubs to make ultimate determinations)
  • The ballroom was enlarged and redesigned to accommodate bigger events, including weddings
  • Interiors were enlarged and/or reconfigured and often “brightened up”
  • Structural issues were resolved — a (very complicated, multi-level!) elevator helped conjoin the old space with the new and a new entrance was added to make the club more easily accessible for all members and to enable ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance
  • Technological capabilities were added to make meeting and other rooms more flexible and accommodating to different types of members and event needs

City club transformation is becoming commonplace as many look for new ways to compete — and even thrive — in once again-bustling downtowns across the country.  Not every club will go to the lengths The Palmetto and Summit Clubs did. But this marriage, we expect, will be a role model for others.

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