Developer: First Columbia Common business could open next year

11/11/2013 6:58 PM

11/12/2013 7:56 AM

A project could open within the as-yet-undeveloped 165-acre State Hospital campus on Bull Street as early as next year, Greenville developer Bob Hughes said Monday.

“We met with someone today who wants to open on the campus next year,” Hughes told some 200 people at the Columbia Rotary Club Monday. “That would be a rush.”

Hughes did not identify the kind of business that would open, other than to say, “That would be a very small project.”

In any case, Hughes said, “We hope to have three (developments) under construction by the end of the spring.”

Hughes’ plans for the historic Bull Street tract — being marketed as Columbia Common — call for numerous smaller developments, including retail, restaurants, office buildings and housing. As the project’s “master developer,” Hughes plans to hire niche developers who specialize in various kinds of buildings to build the smaller segments.

“We have some really good companies who’ve contacted us,” said Hughes, 61, a Duke undergraduate and University of South Carolina law school graduate.

Some future office complexes will be built on speculation. Others will be “purpose-built” for specific uses.

Asked if the development would include “big-box stores like Target, Costco and Best Buy,” Hughes said no. To include big boxes would require “a big parking field,” he said. “I just can’t do a big parking field.”

Hughes said he didn’t know how much housing in the development would be multi-family and how much would be single-family. But, he added, “You can’t have all renters in a large community because you don’t have that pride of ownership.”

Asked why a proposed design, including a minor league baseball stadium, did not have much parking around the stadium, located in the middle of the complex, Hughes said, “People will walk up to a mile and a quarter to a sporting event.”

Also, baseball stadium operators now want their stadiums surrounded by retail, “so that you walk by the retailers, and by the restaurants and by the shops to come to baseball,” he added.

Although Hughes said he hopes to keep some of the grand old trees that form an esplanade on the Bull Street side of the complex, some trees are sick and will have to come down. “Some of those really big trees are really ill.”

Utility lines on the site will be buried, he said.

Columbia is a “phenomenal market,” Hughes said, adding Columbia Common will attract future homebuyers from the 5,000 or so graduates each year from the Midlands’ seven college and universities.

“There’s no (other) place in South Carolina that has 5,000 people you want to retain in a market, most all of whom have fond memories of the market,” he said.

The sale of the complex, on the site of a former historic state asylum for the mentally ill, earlier this year to Hughes was considered the largest land deal in modern Columbia history.

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