Downtown and north Columbia might soon get a big boost as work has begun on a 20-acre park at BullStreet that supporters say will raise the area’s property values and quality of life.
The public park also will build momentum for BullStreet, the effort to redevelop the 181-acre former S.C. State Hospital campus.
Workers this week began moving dirt for BullStreet Park, which will become Columbia’s 7th largest city park.
Along with a mostly taxpayer-funded $37 million minor league baseball stadium, the new park will be a centerpiece of the campus’ redevelopment, planned to include thousands of stores, homes and offices.
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The first phase of the park will feature a 2-acre pond and a 4-acre green space for passive recreation (no ball fields). Also, Smith Branch creek, which now runs in pipes underground, will be brought to the surface. The work also includes water quality and flood control facets that designers say will be – no pun intended – groundbreaking.
“Every great neighborhood has great parks,” said Robert Hughes, president of Hughes Development Co., which is redeveloping the former mental hospital complex. “Any great downtown has great parks and public spaces. And from the beginning, we knew we needed a great public space in the BullStreet District.”
BullStreet is considered the biggest land deal in modern Columbia history. Over 20 years, developers plan to build 3 million square feet of commercial development and up to 3,558 residential units on the site.
But one of the most visible aspects of the project – a 30-acre retail and residential village called BullStreet Commons – has been slow to develop after the former commercial recruiter for the project raised expectations of a 41-store complex that never materialized.
Workers are moving tons of dirt taken from the park site to near the intersection of Colonial Drive and Bull Street, site of the reimagined retail complex. The dirt originally was excavated from the site of Spirit Communications Park, home of the minor league Columbia Fireflies.
Excavation also has begun on the pond.
Architect Beau Welling, founder of Greenville’s Beau Welling Design, said people could start using the park for walking, picnicking, Frisbee tossing or just relaxing by late summer or fall of next year.
“The initial phase will be pretty passive stuff,” he said. “Then we’ll pause and get input from users.”
A final price tag for Phase One has not been finalized; but Hughes estimated it will be “in the $1 million range.”
The cost is dependent, he said, on such factors as materials for the walkways, type of lighting system and other factors.
But he emphasized the cost, to be funded by taxpayers, will be part of the original $32 million city commitment for infrastructure on the campus.
“There will be no new money in the park,” he said.
Future phases could include event space, a dog park, a playground and public art, among other features. Cost estimates for those future phases have yet to be determined, Hughes said.
But the most intriguing part of Phase One could be features that no one will ever see.
Welling said Smith Branch will be re-engineered into a 10- to 12-foot meandering stream in a shallow bank lined by native plants. But the twin 84-inch pipes that currently house the stream will be left in place and incorporated into a flood control system.
When the water gets too high, some of it will be diverted into the old underground pipe system. The combination of the wide stream and the underground pipe system will not only alleviate flooding on the BullStreet campus, but downstream as well.
“It’s going to be a model for people across the country,” Welling said.
The park eventually will become part of the Three Rivers Greenway when it extends from the Broad River through north Columbia along Smith Branch, Hughes said.
City council member Sam Davis, who represents north Columbia, said the park will enhance quality of life in the area, which contains many emerging neighborhoods.
“It’s a project that will benefit everyone in the area and draw people from across the city,” he said. “It’s going to connect with North Main Street and help sustain property values in places like Earlewood and Elmwood Park.”
Columbia park system
The capital city has 60 city parks and green spaces, 600 acres of city-maintained park land, 55 tennis courts, 16 city pools, spray pads and ponds and nine city-maintained fountains.
Here are the 10 biggest parks:
Riverfront Park – 140 acres
South East Park and Tennis Center – 60 acres
Owens Field Park – 55 acres
Earlewood Park – 48 acres
Granby Park – 26 acres
Greenview Park and Pool – 22 acres
BullStreet Park – 20 acres
Finlay Park – 18.5 acres
Lorick Park – 12.5 acres
Woodland Park – 12 acres