Bull Street panel holds organizational meeting

jwilkinson@thestate.comDecember 2, 2013 

The cupola of the Babcock building on the Department of Mental Health's Bull Street campus in downtown Columbia. The building was completed in the 1880's and housed over eight hundred patients as recently as the 1970's.

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com Buy Photo

The Bull Street Commission – a board intended to advise Columbia City Council on the redevelopment of the former State Hospital project – held its first organizational meeting on Monday.

No action and little discussion took place, but the board will reconvene Jan. 10 with a full agenda.

Council member Brian DeQuincey Newman, chairman of the commission, said board members should serve as conduits to the community and the region and together should act as an advisory body for City Council.

Redevelopment of the 165-acre Bull Street campus is considered the biggest land deal in modern city history. Greenville developer Bob Hughes has struck a deal with the S.C. Department of Mental Health to turn the area into thousands of new homes, stores and offices – as well as a proposed new minor league baseball stadium.

“This is not just Columbia,” Newman said. “This will affect our region for many years to come.”

The redevelopment 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.

Bull Street will be built in four phases over the next two decades or more, according to 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.

A team already has begun marketing the retail section of the development as Columbia Common. They debuted the plan for the shopping and dining district at a high-profile trade show in Atlanta a month ago.

The commission is tasked with meeting every other month to review such issues as the preservation of historic buildings, minority hiring, interaction with surrounding neighborhoods and the allocation of nearly $50 million in taxpayer funds for parking garages and other infrastructure.

Mayor Steve Benjamin, who has been criticized for pushing through a development deal with Hughes that some say was rushed, briefly addressed the commission Monday.

“We all know the unique opportunity this represents to the people of Columbia, the Midlands and South Carolina,” he said.

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