85 storefronts planned for Bull Street

The Commons at Bull Street - An Update

Bob Hughes of Hughes Development, Mike Cohn of Lennar Commercial and Mayor Steve Benjamin give an update on the Bull Street redevelopment project, now known as The Commons at Bull Street in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Bob Hughes of Hughes Development, Mike Cohn of Lennar Commercial and Mayor Steve Benjamin give an update on the Bull Street redevelopment project, now known as The Commons at Bull Street in Columbia, South Carolina.

The developer for the new BullStreet project at the former S.C. State Hospital campus will submit plans for an 85-store urban village that includes 414,000 square feet of space, officials of the Lennar Commercial firm told The State.

The village will range from one to five stories and will have 275 upper-story apartments, mostly market rate apartments as opposed to the trending student housing. The retailers will include shops, restaurants, services and entertainment, including a cinema, Lennar recruiter Mike Cohn said last week in his first extensive interview on the project.

Cohn wouldn’t name any of the stores, saying that filling the development is complicated — “herding cats,” he termed it — and early announcements could hurt the recruitment of future tenants. Those announcements would likely be made en masse on the eve of construction, which should begin in the second half of next year, he said.

“Retailers are interested in this project because of its authenticity,” he said, noting the campus’s history, which stretches back to 1828. He added that being a state capital and a college town also worked in Columbia’s favor. “It hits on so many metrics with retailers.”


More than a year ago, Jackson Hughes of Hughes Commercial Properties, the Greenville retail developer who brought Lennar into the project, said that he had 41 letters of intent from retailers. He told The State that number is now higher but wouldn’t elaborate.

In addition to the number of storefronts, the recruiters — who were joined by Bob Hughes and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin — also told The State the new name of the shopping and entertainment village: the Commons at BullStreet. The project also has a new website,

“They are making phenomenal progress,” Bob Hughes, the project’s master developer, said of the commercial developers.

The commercial plans will be presented to a Design Review Board appointed by Hughes. Once that board approves the proposal, it must pass muster with a Consolidated Review Committee made up of city planners, architects and engineers.

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.

Cohn said the presence of those students is one of the main drivers of the retailers’ interest.

“Millennials aren’t like most of us when we went to college,” he said. “They are carrying their parents’ credit cards.”

In August, the Columbia office of the Ogletree Deakins law firm became the first major tenant to commit to putting down roots at BullStreet, which is the overall development’s new working name. Besides The Commons at BullStreet, other developments could also utilize the copyrighted BullStreet name, such as the Village at BullStreet for a housing development.

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 Bob Hughes is building in concert with the 8,000-seat, $37-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.

The rest of the building will house offices and retail overlooking the park.

Five other tenants for the campus have been announced:

▪  SOCO, a workplace-sharing company now located in the Vista, has said it would move into the former asylum’s old bakery, just outside the ballpark’s right field fence.

▪  The historic Parker Annex has been leased to an undisclosed tenant, who plans to use the top floor of the 104-year-old building and lease the bottom floor.

▪  Robert Hughes said the Ensor Building, the old asylum morgue adjacent to the First Base Building and the ball park, will be converted into offices on the second story and a restaurant on the first floor.

▪  The landmark Babcock Building with its distinctive red cupola is under contract to be converted to apartments.

▪  And a new 234-unit student housing project has been announced for the center of the campus beyond the ball park’s center field fence.

“There’s a lot going on out there,” Bob Hughes said. “But people don’t see it when they drive by because it’s in the center of the property.”

However, the developers acknowledged that with the exception of the ball park, the retail development is the most visible and anticipated part of the project. But they said it was also the most complex and difficult to assemble.

For many people, the lack of announcements causes understandable concern to those who don’t understand the process, they said. Benjamin added he is often asked when that part of the project will start.

“They ask the same questions my wife (DeAndrea) does every day,” he said. “And she is going to be excited about what she sees out there. But we want it done right.”

Overall BullStreet Project


Square feet of office and retail space under construction


Historic buildings incorporated

89 acres

Amount of land under development, sold or under contract

54 percent

Percentage of the campus the land represents

1 billion

Bits per second internet speed to be installed in the project


Acres of public park currently under construction

The Commons at BullStreet

414,000: Square feet of retail space

275: Market rate apartment units over retail

50,000 to 75,000: Square feet of office space over retail

150: Rooms planned in a 5-story boutique hotel

85: Storefronts on current plan

15: Cafes and restaurants

3: Parking garages

3: Pocket parks

2: Historic buildings incorporated