Spirit Communications wants to do more than own the naming rights to the capital city’s new minor league baseball stadium being built on the old State Hospital grounds. It wants to turn the redeveloped Bull Street campus into a gigabit community.
In addition to providing Wi-Fi service to the 165-acre site, the company plans to install a fiber optics network that would allow businesses – and even individuals who live there – to have affordable access to gigabit speeds. Gigabit speeds are at least 100 times faster than traditional broadband, Spirit officials said.
By contrast, many small companies today use 10 to 100 megabytes for their businesses. Access to 1 gigabyte would allow those smaller companies to hugely increase their bandwidth, which speeds the movement of data.
“Whenever they put in a street, we’re going to put in fiber optic cable,” said Spirit chief executive Bob Keane. “We want to connect new work environments to the tools they need.”
Bull Street is considered the largest land deal in modern Columbia history. Greenville developer Bob Hughes plans to transform the former mental hospital grounds into a New Urbanism community and retail center with proposed thousands of new homes, offices and stores.
Already, the new $37 million minor league baseball stadium is being built to be completed by April 2016. Land also is being prepped for an office and hospitality building along the first base line. Together, the projects are intended to be a springboard to the development, called Columbia Commons.
Hughes could not be reached for comment. But recruiters have said about 61 retailers are poised to locate there. A large office and residential contingent is anticipated during the next decade or so as developers partner with Hughes.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said the fiber optic network is an extension of a partnership between the city and Spirit to provide Wi-Fi for Main Street. “This is the power of public/private partnerships and I’m convinced that the best is yet to come,” he said.
So far, there is no timetable for when the offices, stores and homes planned for Columbia Commons might be built and no concrete announcements from Hughes, individual developers or businesses.
But businessman Greg Hilton told The State newspaper that he plans to locate there, primarily because of access to the proposed broadband network.
“It’s an opportunity to be on the ground floor of building a new and exciting part of the city,” said Hilton, who noted that Google is creating similar networks in cities like Chattanooga and Raleigh. “It’s 21st century infrastructure.”
Since 2013, Hilton has partnered with other small entrepreneurs such as Web designers and code writers in a co-working space on Gervais Street called SOCO.
The longtime advocate for startup companies in Columbia said the Gervais Street group has outgrown its “flex space” offices above Jason’s Deli and wants to move into the historic bakery building on the Bull Street campus. Having access to the gigabyte community played a big part in that decision because it will open new doors for him and his colleagues.
What would allow more affordable access to the super-fast broadband is an economy of scale, Spirit Communication’s Keane said. Much of the cost of fiber optics – which is passed along to the consumer – is installing the network such as poles, lines and conduit. It’s cheaper for Spirit to do that alongside other utility work such as streets, water and sewer, he said.
The sheer number of potential users at the mega-development also would help keep prices low, as would proximity to Spirit’s headquarters and network three blocks away on Bull Street, he said.
Keane didn’t know when the work would start because Hughes hasn’t announced a timetable for other utility work. Keane also wouldn’t speculate on the cost to install the network, but said it would be “millions.”
“We’re investing in the future,” he said. “Greg (at SOCO) is the tip of the iceberg of what’s going to be moving in there. And we’ll continue to find ways to add to the economic value of the state.”
Stadium construction milestones
Even though laborers are in the early stages of building the city’s $37 million baseball Spirit Communications Park, the work schedule calls for the year-round facility to be ready by early March 2016. Here are key dates in the construction schedule:
Jan. 7: Mass excavation begins.
March 1: Excavation reaches the 18-foot depth needed for the deepest part of the ballpark.
May 6: Begin pouring concrete footings.
July 20: Start putting up steel superstructure.
Dec. 23: Begin building the playing field.
Feb. 8, 2016: Start laying sod for the playing field.
Early March 2016: Scheduled completion of the ballpark.
SOURCE: City of Columbia