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Brand new Columbia event and wedding venue brings ‘energy’ with a twist

Downtown Church at BullStreet becomes event space during the week

The Downtown Church at the BullStreet district has converted the former Central Energy facility into a worship space on Sundays and an event space during the week. It is available to host weddings and other social events.
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The Downtown Church at the BullStreet district has converted the former Central Energy facility into a worship space on Sundays and an event space during the week. It is available to host weddings and other social events.

The new Central Energy building at BullStreet is not just a church without a steeple, pews or a pulpit. It’s also Columbia’s newest and perhaps most unique wedding and event venue.

The building was once the power plant for the former S.C. State Hospital, pumping out steam and cold water through a labyrinth of underground pipes and elevated trellises to provide heating and cooling to the entire campus. It opened in 1981 and closed in 2006.

Today, it is the home of Downtown Church, the laid-back Presbyterian (USA) church that likes to take coffee breaks in the middle of services so congregants can mingle. But instead of the aforementioned church trappings, the building is marked by 8,000 square feet of flexible open space topped by soaring boiler stacks.

“A lot of churches have one steeple, but we have three smokestacks,” pastor Dawn Hyde said. “We attract more lightning. It’s three steeples for the peoples.”

The conversion of the block-y, dark building into a space where people can meet, worship and party was a challenge.

It was never intended to be occupied,” said Becky Brantley, project manager for the Garvin Design Group, who oversaw the $2.5 million renovation project. “It was a very industrial building. It didn’t have any windows. It was completely full of machinery. There was nothing aesthetic about it.”

Now it is a large, open space, a blank canvas for events, with wide welcoming windows, three bay windows that open to a walled, 2,700-square-foot courtyard. It also has a stage with sliding doors that open to a twin, outdoor stage overlooking a wide lawn.

The concrete floor still bears the scars of its industrial past with a new mezzanine above. And what was once a six-foot-deep mechanical sump is now a cozy nook with couches, swivel chairs and a cow skin rug.

The building has the feel of an event venue rather than a church — which is exactly what Downtown Church wanted, Hyde said.

“We bring our own energy as a church and opening (the building) up to the community brings more energy,” she said. “There’s a cross pollination of ideas.”

In addition to private events, Hyde said the church plans to have open community events like food truck rodeos and outdoor movies, as well as concerts on the outdoor stage (which is also perfect for Easter sunrise services.)

“You’ll get people here that would never come otherwise,” said Downtown Church’s de facto executive director Janie Quinn, whose official title is “director of keeping it tight.”

Meeting in an event space is nothing new for the congregation. Prior to moving into Central Energy, it met at 701 Whaley, the former Olympia mill village community center that has become one of the Capital City’s most popular venues.

But unlike 701, Central Energy has a full commercial kitchen and an in-house caterer, Crawford Pressley, who has helmed Loosh Culinaire Fine Catering for 16 years. He now operates the event and wedding side of Central Energy, while Downtown Church handles the spiritual and outreach side.

He had been researching an indoor-outdoor event venue when he heard through the grapevine that Downtown Church was well on it way to opening one.

“It was clear to me that it was meant to be,” he said. “They needed someone to manage the space and I needed the space.”

The building was donated by Hughes Development Corp., the Greenville firm overseeing the redevelopment of the sprawling 181-acre former state mental hospital campus.

The space and congregation indeed will bring energy to the district, president Robert Hughes said at the time, and fill a need in the new neighborhood.

“Every community needs a church,” he said.

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.


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