BullStreet developer fires retail recruiter, changes shopping village plan

Opponent, supporter debate BullStreet

A citizens group grilled the BullStreet developer on May 19, 2017
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A citizens group grilled the BullStreet developer on May 19, 2017

BullStreet master developer Hughes Development Corp. has fired its retail recruiter and is taking another approach to attract retail to its 30-acre shopping district on the campus of the old S.C. State Hospital.

Company president Robert Hughes told The State newspaper the rise of online shopping and the decline of brick-and-mortar retail stores since the project began four years ago drove his decision to take “smaller bites” in developing the district.

Hughes’ staff will market smaller parcels and let the district evolve in stages. The prior strategy called for reaching “critical mass” by striking deals with dozens of retailers and building a 400,0000-square-foot shopping village all at once.

“The result will be something more organic and more responsive to the market,” he said. “I would rather have five 80,000-foot projects than one 400,000-square-foot project.”

The redevelopment of the 181-acre State Hospital campus is considered the biggest land deal in Columbia history. It is zoned for 3.3 million square feet of commercial property that is planned to host thousands of residences, offices, entertainment venues and stores.

But so far, only a taxpayer-funded minor league baseball park and an office building built by Hughes Development have been constructed. Two small historic structures also have been renovated.

A luxury townhouse project has been announced, as well as an upscale senior living complex. Construction has started on the townhouses.

Hughes Commercial Development, run by Jackson Hughes, was the former retail recruiter. Jackson Hughes is a cousin of Hughes Development Corp.’s owner Bob Hughes, who is Robert Hughes’ father.

Jackson Hughes had estimated as many as 85 storefronts would be in the original plan, and said he had contracts with 45 tenants. Robert Hughes said the company is putting no numbers on the new retail plan, which is still called the Commons at BullStreet.

“It will tie to how quickly the phases progress,” he said.

Columbia City Council member Howard Duvall said he thinks the new approach is a good one.

“Jackson Hughes was looking for a large development of 400,000 square feet,” he said. “That’s hard to do in this retail environment.”

Duvall said the Commons will still have the village concept, with mixed retail and residential.

Robert Hughes said his company is talking with all of Jackson Hughes’ leads that remain interested. He declined to name the number of leads.

Although suburban-style malls are declining, “lifestyle centers” that combine shopping, entertainment, residences, workplaces and nature – the vision set out for BullStreet – are thriving, said Mark Rosenbaum, chair of the University of South Carolina’s Retail Department.

“The lifestyle format is booming around the world,” he said. “So it doesn’t make much sense to end the project.”

Robert Hughes said there are no plans to scrap the retail district.

“If you are ready to grow in any location at BullStreet, and your concept fits with our vision … we are ready to build for you,” he said.

Bob Hughes added they are only in the fourth year of what is envisioned as a 20-year build-out for the sprawling campus.

“Our plan was designed to respond to market changes and we have no concern about meeting our obligations or fulfilling the overall vision of the development,” he said.