Selling the Bull Street development - the new Columbia Common

jwilkinson@thestate.comNovember 2, 2013 

— The shopping and dining area planned for the redeveloped State Hospital campus on Bull Street has a name – Columbia Common. And Greenville developer Bob Hughes has put together a retail marketing team – armed with a glossy new promotional book – which started talking with potential tenants this past week at a high-profile trade show in Atlanta.

Hughes, in a rare interview, told The State that he chose the name to echo Boston Common, the famous park in that New England city. He said he wants the new Columbia Common to be a gathering place, much like that park, which anchors a chain of other parks that wind their way through Massachusetts’ state capital.

“We like it,” Hughes said. “But I don’t know whether it’s (the name) of the whole place or just the shopping center.”

Although Bull Street may be headed for a common name, it is a very uncommon development. The sale of the 165-acre former insane asylum property is considered the largest land deal in modern Columbia history.

The development would add thousands of new homes, stores and offices – as well as a proposed new minor league baseball stadium. The redevelopment of the old State Hospital campus on Bull Street is expected to generate $1.2 billion a year in economic impact when it is complete – about two decades from now – and $20 million a year in taxes to local governments and the Richland 1 school district, according to an economic activity study released this summer by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

By contrast, one of the city’s biggest economic engines – Fort Jackson – generates about $2 billion a year in economic impact, according to studies. But, because it is a federal installation, the fort pays no property taxes.

Hughes, as master developer, has partnered with his first cousin, Jackson Hughes of Greenville’s Hughes Commercial Properties, to serve as developer of the shopping area, which is fronted by Bull Street itself.

Jackson Hughes tapped the Tampa firm SCAIA Retail Partners USA to act as retail recruiter. Baltimore’s Design 3 International has been hired as the architectural firm.

Rita Scaia and Jackson Hughes attended last week’s Southeast Conference – International Council of Shopping Centers show in Atlanta. Scaia said that the meeting served to introduce the project to a wide mix of national retailers. No deals were signed, she said, but interest was high.

“We haven’t really officially launched the project,” she said. “But the plans are out there now and we are talking to tenants I’ve worked with before. We got a great response.”

Bull Street will be built in four phases over the next two decades or more, according to Bob Hughes, the architect for downtown Greenville’s renewal who has agreed to purchase the Bull Street property for $15 million. He will serve as master developer for the 165-acre parcel, building out some tracts himself and parcelling out others to interested developers.

In the most recent proposal, as laid out in an 11-by-11-inch, 28-page, high-gloss promotion book obtained by The State, two 30,000-square foot “big box” retail buildings have been replaced by more, smaller spaces for stores and restaurants, most ranging from 8,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. Many of the smaller building have apartments above them.

“It’s a more focused vision,” Bob Hughes said. “Restaurants form the anchors for the center. It’s a newer way to shop – a lot more food and bars.”

A mock up shows spaces for 14 restaurants, 17 stores, three parking garages, a 6-screen cinema, a gourmet grocery and a sports bar, although those numbers and use likely will change depending on the needs of the tenants.

Student housing is planned for the development and the Babcock Building, with its familiar red cupola, is envisioned as a conference center and hotel.

Columbia Common takes up about one-third on the western end of the tract. The center section would feature a minor league baseball park and apartments or condominiums. Land along Harden Street on the eastern side of the property is slated for offices.

A large park centerpieced by a newly day-lighted Smith Branch Creek would traverse the development. Bob Hughes said that opening up the creek would be the first work to be done at the site in the spring.

He added that he is optimistic about the project going forward. “We’re in a good place right now.”

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