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REI is opening a 20,000-foot store in this up-and-coming Columbia neighborhood

Hip outdoor outfitter REI Co-op is coming to Columbia’s BullStreet.

The Washington State-based retailer plans to build a 20,000-square-foot store near the intersection of Colonial Drive and Bull Street on a reconfigured Freed Street. Freed Street currently connects Bull Street to the entry plaza of Segra Park, Columbia’s minor league baseball stadium.

Columbia is the second location for the outfitter in South Carolina. The Greenville store opened in 2011. The completion date for the Columbia store is spring 2020.

“We chose Columbia for a lot of different reasons,” Gail Kirkland, REI’s retail director for the South, told The State. “This area has amazing access to outdoor recreation and proximity to Charleston and the coast. Our strategy is also to go where our members are, and we have more than 122,000 lifetime members in South Carolina. And we’ve noticed a lot of our members from South Carolina shop in our Charlotte and Greenville locations.”

REI was founded in 1938 and sells outdoor gear for such activities as hiking, cycling, camping and paddling. It does not sell hunting or fishing equipment.

The store is member-owned, but you don’t have to be a member to shop there.

Members pay $20 for a lifetime membership and share in the company’s profits through an annual dividend. The co-op has more than 122,000 members in South Carolina, company officials said.

REI also offers workshops and classes intended to better connect people to the outdoors. The company helped more than 350,000 people across the country last year, they said.

REI will also offer gear rentals allowing people to enjoy more outdoor activities and try new products, company officials said.

REI is a major coup for Hughes Development Corp., the master developer of the sprawling 181-acre former mental hospital campus. The group had been criticized after plans for a 400,000-square-foot shopping and housing village called BullStreet Commons with up to 80 retailers didn’t materialize.

The BullStreet pullback was caused by changing market conditions, Hughes officials said at the time.

“In a retail world that has and is going through a complete transformation, they have evolved and changed with the times,” said Robert Hughes, president of Hughes Development Corp. “They fit perfectly with the vision for BullStreet and we couldn’t be more excited.”

BullStreet is considered the biggest land deal in modern Columbia history. It is zoned for 3.3 million square feet of commercial space, which is roughly the size of Greenville’s central business district.

The city has invested tens of millions of dollars in the 181-acre campus, including Segra Park, a $37-million, mostly taxpayer-funded professional baseball stadium, as well as streets, utilities, curbs and gutters.

“We welcome REI Co-op to Columbia as the first of many retailers in the BullStreet District that will add to our city’s growing vitality in so many ways,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said in a statement. “REI’s history as a good corporate partner is impressive, and we look forward to working with them.”

The co-op is dedicated to protecting wild spaces and investing in spaces for outdoor recreation, and annually gives back nearly 70 percent of its profits to the outdoor community, company officials said. In South Carolina, REI invested a total of $12,000 in the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill and the Foothills Trail Conference, they said.

As REI gets closer to opening in Columbia, the co-op plans to invest in the local outdoor community in the Midlands and surrounding region, they said.

Kirkland noted that the BullStreet District’s plans also call for converting Smith Branch Creek into an above-ground waterway and constructing a 20-acre public park, both of which will complement REI’s new store. The park will feature a 2-acre pond, trails, a dog park, the restored creek, among other features.

“BullStreet is particularly exciting for the project on Smith Branch Creek,” she said. “We like to put our stores in areas that make it easy for our customers to pick up a piece of gear and get outside, and having access to a 20-acre park nearby is really exciting. We also chose BullStreet for its central location. The proximity to the State House and University of South Carolina was really appealing to us.”

Hughes said that REI also tapped into Columbians’ penchant for paddling on the Saluda, Broad and Congaree rivers and hiking and biking on the area’s various riverwalks and greenways.

“Columbia is focused on the outdoors and REI is committed to the environment,” he said. They have so many programs protecting the environment. and those are also values we have at BullStreet with the park. It’s a perfect fit.”

REI expects to hire about 45 employees in Columbia. Job seekers can apply online at REI.com/jobs.

New employees will receive benefits including generous product and service discounts, competitive pay and retirement contributions., company officials said. REI employees also enjoy unique perks, like two paid “Yay Days” that allow them to enjoy their favorite outdoor activity and an additional paid day off on Black Friday to #OptOutside with family and friends, they said.

REI has been recognized as one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for 22 consecutive years.

REI joins a growing list of tenants at BullStreet:

Construction is underway on the largest private development project to date in the district — the $30 million, 196-unit Merrill Gardens senior living complex. It is scheduled to be completed in the last quarter of this year.

The Terranova group of Greenville is building 28 luxury town homes along Calhoun Street. Five have been completed in the TownPark developent. Two have sold and two are under contract in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

Capgemini, a Paris, France-based technology company, is housed in the First Base building, along with Ogletree Deakins law firm, Founders Federal Credit Union and the Central Carolina Community Foundation.

Bone-in Barbecue is serving up high-end eats in the historic Ensor Building, the hospital’s former morgue and medical lab.

Co-working space SOCO in the historic Bakery hosts the COLAToday hyperlocal newsletter and other startups.

S.C. Department of Natural Resources has its archeology center in the Parker Annex.

Downtown Church has converted the Central Energy facility into an event venue.

Also, developers are working to convert the historic Babcock Building into 200 apartments, and two other mixed use developments have been talked about, although work has not begun on any of the three projects.

For more information, go to http://www.bullstreetsc.com.

BullStreet District
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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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