By Chuck Crumbo
Published Sept. 21, 2012
AgFirst Farm Credit Bank intends to buy the Bank of America Plaza in downtown Columbia and move its operations and some 380 employees into the 17-story tower.
“We have entered into a contract to buy the Bank of America Plaza and we are now beginning the due-diligence process,” Charl Butler, CFO of AgFirst, said Thursday.
AgFirst expects to close on the deal sometime before the end of October, Butler said. The purchase price is confidential.
AgFirst will be vacating its long-time headquarters building at Hampton and Marion streets, which was built in the 1920s. It will occupy 100,000 square feet of modern office space at the plaza, Butler added.
AgFirst Farm Credit Bank intends to buy the Bank of America Plaza and move its operations and some 380 employees into the 17-story tower. (File photo/James T. Hammond)
AgFirst began looking for a new building about a year ago, Butler said.
The bank has outgrown its present location, which consists of two buildings. The first was built in 1925 and the second — a five-story addition — opened in 1935.
The Bank of America Plaza opened 23 years ago, and is a 300,000-square-foot, LEED gold certified building.
AgFirst wanted to stay downtown so employees’ commuting patterns wouldn’t be disrupted, Butler said. Also, he added, “We thought it was important for the city to stay downtown.”
“This move will have a significant impact on the Columbia office market and on Main Street,” said David Lockwood, senior vice president of Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm.
When AgFirst moves in, the plaza will be 100% occupied, Lockwood said. Also, the Central Business District vacancy rate for Class “A” space will drop to 8.7%, the lowest rate in more than 20 years, Lockwood added.
The Class “A” office building was owned by Cooper Realty Investments of Rogers, Ariz., before being placed into receivership with Lincoln Harris, a Charlotte commercial real estate management firm.
In May 2011, the Columbia Regional Business Report reported that the owner was more than 30 days in default on a $34 million loan on the building. The securitized loan had been transferred to a “special servicer” to handle its delinquent status.
Cooper Realty bought the property for $42.3 million in May 2006, according to the Richland County Assessor.
While in receivership, NAI Avant continued to market the building for lease.
“This is good for the building, good for downtown and good for the tenants,” said Bruce Harper, broker in charge at NAI Avant, which is the leasing agent for the building.
Bank of America, which occupies about 63,000 square feet, will remain the primary tenant, Butler said.
Other tenants are involved in the finance, insurance, legal, government and real estate industries.
AgFirst will have to do some upfitting before it can start moving in employees and equipment, Butler said. The process, which will include moving the data center, will take about a year.
As of now, there are no plans for the existing structure, which consists of about 100,000 square feet.
AgFirst is one of four banks in the nationwide Farm Credit System, established by Congress in 1916. It is also the largest financial institution based in South Carolina, with assets of more than $30 billion.
AgFirst provides funding and financial services to 20 Agricultural Credit Associations in 15 eastern states and Puerto Rico. These associations provide real estate and production financing to 80,000 farmers, agribusinesses and rural homeowners.