Bull Street developer Bob Hughes said he has contracts to develop 50 acres at the old S.C. State Hospital, with the total investment reaching $350 million.
The projects range from a retail village with 40 to 60 stores and restaurants to a freestanding student housing development and the renovation of the landmark Babcock Building into apartments, among other plans.
But Hughes – who serves as master developer of the former asylum’s 165-acre central campus, leasing land to other developers – said many of the deals are complicated, fluid and not yet finalized, especially those with retailers for the shopping area now called BullStreet Common.
“There are a number of retail reasons why they are not making announcements,” said Hughes, of Greenville, who is considered the architect of that city’s downtown renewal. “They’ll announce when it’s too late to mess up their deals. But maybe we could have a site plan to submit to the city by the end of the year.”
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Hughes added that an out-of-state developer wants to convert the sprawling Babcock Building into apartments, but would have to leverage a variety of historic and other state and local tax credits to make the project work. And then any design would have to pass muster with state and federal historic preservation agencies because the main asylum building – begun in 1858 – is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s a very, very difficult project,” said Hughes, who noted that the developer is trying to incorporate more than 200 different floors plans to fit into the oddly shaped institutional building. “But we’re doing everything we can to make it work. I think the chances are better than 50-50.”
Redevelopment of the Bull Street property is considered the biggest and most important land deal in Columbia history, one that could transform a downtown that is already in a state of incredible growth. That growth is mostly driven by an expanding University of South Carolina student population and its associated downtown student housing mega-projects and academic buildings.
Earlier this month, the Columbia office of the Ogletree Deakins law firm became the first major tenant to put down roots at BullStreet, which is the overall development’s new working name. Besides BullStreet Common, other developments could also utilize the copyrighted BullStreet name, such as the Village at BullStreet for a housing development. “We’re still messing around with names,” Hughes said.
In April, the Ogletree Deakins law firm will occupy the top floor of the First Base Building, a 143,000-square-foot office building that Hughes is building himself in concert with the 6,500-seat, $36-million Spirit Communications Park. The park is the future home of the Columbia Fireflies, a Class A minor league baseball team, and the centerpiece of what will be the BullStreet neighborhood.
One other tenant has been announced. SOCO, a workplace sharing company now located in the Vista, has said it would move into the former asylum’s old bakery, which is located just outside the ballpark’s right field fence.
Also, the building reaches a benchmark for triggering construction of a parking garage. Under a development agreement, the city of Columbia is obligated to build a parking garage of up to 800 spaces when Hughes has permitted and started construction on projects of at least 120,000 square feet.
“He’s reached that milestone,” Gregory Tucker, the city’s special projects administrator, said Friday.
However, Hughes, in an exclusive interview with The State newspaper last week, said he might not ask for the garage right away. He said the campus has more than enough surface parking to handle crowds at Fireflies baseball games and other events, as well as the employees and customers who would work in and visit the First Base Building.
“Why build it now if you don’t need it?” he said.
Also, plans are underway for $15 million worth of city-funded infrastructure – including roads and gutters, street lighting, landscaping, water and sewer, and other improvements. Phase one, which is already surveyed and marked at the Bull Street site, includes a road that encircles the baseball stadium and branches out to Calhoun Street.
In other developments, Hughes said he is:
▪ Working with “a really good company” that wants to build a freestanding student housing project of about 600 beds
▪ Talking with a local developer about a townhouse project on the south side of the property along Calhoun Street
▪ Advertising the availability of first-floor space in the First Base Building, which includes prime restaurant locations that open onto the baseball park’s concourse and overlook the playing field
▪ Considering saving the central core of the old Byrnes hospital, which is adjacent to the ballpark and overlooks it, for conversion into “workforce” apartments that would be affordable to construction workers and service workers employed at BullStreet
“We want to have housing here that is affordable for all income levels,” Hughes said. “That’s how you build a community.”
- An 8,000-seat, $37 million minor league baseball park
- A 143,000-square-foot office and retail building
- Renovation of the historic bakery into a workplace sharing space
- Construction of roads and other infrastructure work around the stadium to Calhoun Street
- An 800-space, city-funded parking garage
- A retail center with up to 60 stores
- Renovation of the Babcock Building into apartments
- A student housing project
- Converting Byrnes Hospital into “workforce” apartments
- A townhouse development along Calhoun Street