Greenville developer Bob Hughes is asking the city of Columbia for up to $40 million in road, water, sewer and other infrastructure improvements for the huge Bull Street development, a figure that is double his initial estimate.
But Hughes and the company that wants to build the first commercial development there might be willing to pay upfront for the immediate road and utility needs and have the city reimburse them later, city manager Steve Gantt told City Council members Tuesday. Those financial arrangements are yet to be worked out, Gantt said.
Hughes has not identified the company, Gantt said. Hughes could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. But he has been estimating for a year that he would need about $20 million in public funds for infrastructure.
The first infrastructure improvement would involve building a half-mile through-street on the 181-acre property that would feed the company’s project, Gantt and other city staffers said.
Hughes and the unidentified developer would install the road to city standards. Water and sewer lines would be run from current lines the city has been upgrading on the south side of the site, Gantt said.
Gantt estimated that running those utility lines would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million, a small expense in comparison to many city water and sewer projects.
He stressed the $40 million figure – $31 million of which would be for infrastructure and $8 million to $9 million for two parking garages – is the maximum Hughes ultimately will request from the city.
“He believes he will go lower,” Gantt said of the $40 million figure. “But he said that will be the high-end number.”
Hughes has yet to make a formal request for how much he wants from public funds for infrastructure – or seed money – for Bull Street. City leaders say the huge development has the potential to transform the future of downtown Columbia.
Previous estimates were that Hughes would seek a commitment from the city of between $20 million and $27 million over the life of the Bull Street development, according to Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine. That build-out could take 15 to 25 years, depending on economic recovery from the deep recession and Hughes’ success in attracting other developers for phases of construction.
Gantt and Devine, both of whom met with Hughes Monday, said the developer of the first project is pushing to have it completed and open within 18 months.
Council received an update on Hughes’ unfolding plans for Bull Street during a discussion about changing plans for the redevelopment of North Main Street.
Devine and committees from the city, Richland County and Richland District 1 are in talks about changing what’s called the “Renaissance” tax increment finance district that stretches over 3,600 acres from Gervais Street north to Main Street and westward from Elmwood Avenue to Two Notch Road.
The Bull Street project is the centerpiece of the taxing district and likely would be the first project to be funded from tax revenues generated inside its boundaries. Cities use such tax districts – which do not impose new taxes – to attract private investment that otherwise is unlikely to venture into those areas. Columbia created such a district to revitalize the Vista, which has been widely regarded as a big success.
Council took no action Tuesday during a briefing on the status of the talks.
But three members asked pointed questions, especially about whether the county and the school district would share in the risk if tax revenue generated within the district did not come in fast enough to cover construction bonds for the infrastructure needs.
A contingent on City Council, led by Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, does not want to use income from the city’s water and sewer systems as collateral should tax revenue in the district fall short.
“If we do use water and sewer, then there’s a possibility we will have a rate increase,” Rickenmann said.
Devine, who is the city’s point person on the talks, said she hopes that by the end of May the three governments will agree on how the district would be set up, which infrastructure needs would be funded and what kind of accountability would be put into place to oversee the North Main Street district.