Business report

Booming BullStreet Accelerating Construction > Columbia Business Report

Eighteen months after a fire threatened its existence, the renovated Babcock Building will welcome its first residents next month.

A 14-unit portion of the planned $55 million, 208-unit luxury apartment complex in the 254,000-square-foot building, which once housed SC State Hospital patients, will open the first week of ‘April.

Other sections of the building, which featured two dining halls and 12 connected buildings, will open over the next year, said Hugh Shytle, co-founder and president of Richmond, Va.-based developer Clachan Properties.

The Babcock’s luxury apartments, ranging from one to three bedrooms, feature over 100 different floor plans.

“This building is massive and Byzantine and very complicated, so it’s been a challenge all along,” Shytle said. “Fire just added another element.”

Anxiety after first learning of the September 2020 fire that destroyed the Babcock Building’s iconic cupola was quickly replaced with relief when it became clear firefighters had contained the damage to a central section solidly built.

“We were terrified,” Shytle said. “The first reports we received were that it was a devastating blow, and we were really very concerned that we had lost so much historic fabric that an adaptive reuse project could not be carried out. … But we had no not lost so much tissue that we couldn’t put it back together.

The Babcock Building transformation is the largest and most visible piece of a BullStreet neighborhood undergoing transformation, the 181-acre mixed-use site of the former State Psychiatric Hospital. The roar of heavy equipment echoes through the thorns of steel skeletons protruding from the ground all over the urban campus seven years after Greenville-based master developer Hughes Development Corp. originally envisioned as a 20-year build.

“BullStreet is a project that builds on itself,” said Chandler Cox, Hughes Development project manager. “There were projects in the beginning when we started construction in 2015, and they slowly all built on their own. You feel the density coming together. You really start to see the vision of BullStreet.

Other residential projects underway include the 269-unit, two-block Bennet at BullStreet, slated to open next year. Merrill Gardens’ 120 units are filling up, with potted plants and gliders now decorating the balconies. And TownPark at BullStreet, with a total of 28 townhouses planned, began construction on Phase 4 after selling Phases 1-3.

On the commercial side, the WestLawn building, which celebrated its inauguration last March, has now taken the form of wood and steel. Iron Hill Brewing and Restaurant is set to open next year. Publico is planning a second location inside the Ensor building, the Sanctuary Food Hall is set to occupy the Chapel of Hope, and the laundry building is being renovated for a future commercial tenant.

The Williams Building is slated for use as a public space, while the 650-space Freed Street parking lot opened for the March 5 baseball game between rivals South Carolina and Clemson. A second parking lot is nearing completion and a third entrance to BullStreet, at Bull Street and Elmwood Avenue, is being finished with funds from the Richland County Penny Tax Program.

And don’t worry. The cupola that greeted motorists approaching that intersection will return, likely in 2023, Shytle said.

“We’ve been working on this project for about five years and a lot of things, good and bad, have happened at BullStreet over the five-year period,” he said. “We’ve been through a pandemic etc, but there’s just a lot of traction at BullStreet right now. We think we strike at the right time.

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.