July 21, 2014

Bull Street construction could start next month

Apartments will open in a year, followed by retail development

Construction could begin as early as next month on apartments for the Bull Street project, developer Bob Hughes said during a meeting Monday.

Crews are expected to start site preparation for apartments along Calhoun Street in August, with the complex opening in the fall of 2015 in the landmark development on the site of the former State Mental Hospital, Hughes said.

“We’re starting to stick shovels in the ground,” he told a meeting of the Bull Street Commission during a briefing at City Hall on Monday.

The commission, chaired by council member Brian DeQuincey Newman, is made of up real estate professionals and community leaders and is tasked with advising City Council on the progress of the sprawling 165-acre project in downtown Columbia.

The development, considered to be the largest and most significant land deal in modern Columbia history, is expected to add thousands of new homes, stores and offices to downtown. It is being called Columbia Common, and Hughes began marketing it last fall to retailers.

With a contract for a minor league baseball stadium settled with the city of Columbia, Hughes – architect of Greenville’s downtown redevelopment – is ready to roll out announcements on retail for a strip along Pickens Street as early as this fall. That 350,000-square-foot retail development, expected to open in 2016 and feature a number of national retailers, also will have residential units on the second and third floors, he said during the commission meeting.

Hughes is the master developer of the project. He is partnered with his first cousin, Jackson Hughes of Greenville’s Hughes Commercial Properties, who serves as developer of the shopping area, which lines either side of Pickens Street, terminating at the Williams Building.

He said Jackson Hughes is in “active, potent negotiations” with numerous retailers.

An earlier mock-up shows spaces for 14 restaurants, 17 stores, three parking garages, a six-screen cinema, a gourmet grocery and a sports bar. However, those numbers and uses likely will change depending on the needs of the tenants, Bob Hughestold commission members.

Hughes at first predicted that it would take 20 years to build out the entire 165-acre site. He says now he has gotten so much interest from retailers, hoteliers and residential and office developers that it could take just half that time.

“We’re drinking from a fire hose when it comes to interest,” he said.

Delays in reaching resolutions with the city on a development agreement and the baseball stadium may have worked in the development’s favor because more people became aware of the project, bringing about more options for the developers to explore, he added.

The baseball stadium, which will include a potential office building and a hotel or apartment building above its main grandstands along the first and third base lines, is expected to open in January 2016 in anticipation of the start of baseball season in April.

Crews should begin this fall tearing down what amounts to a minimum security prison along Harden Street and daylighting a creek that runs through the property to turn it into a park, Hughes said. The park will include a pond, jogging trails, sculpture garden and a dog park, Hughes said.

Also, the Byrnes Center hospital on the site that originally was slated for demolition will be saved and possibly turned into residential or office units, he told the committee. Hughes said following the meeting he also might have found a use for the Parker Annex building, although he wouldn’t elaborate.

Reclaiming as many existing buildings as possible – historic or not – is essential to creating a sense of place, he said.

“It’s important that this place be authentic,” he said.

Newman said that building owners neighboring or near the Bull Street property already have begun sprucing up their properties and seeking new tenants. For instance, a gas station across the street from the Main entrance to Bull Street that has been open, closed or converted for different uses through the years, has had it tanks sealed and is for sale as development property.

“Bull Street will be a huge catalyst for all of Columbia,” he said.

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