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Columbia lays out Bull Street development agreement


By James T. Hammond
jhammond@scbiznews.com
Published June 25, 2013

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin laid out the highlights of an agreement with Greenville developer Bob Hughes for the future development of the 181-acre Bull Street campus formerly occupied by the state Department of Mental Health, and added his own aspirations for a baseball stadium to be part of the site.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin laid out the highlights Tuesday of an agreement with Greenville developer Bob Hughes for the future development of the 181-acre Bull Street campus  (Photo/James T. Hammond)
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin laid out the highlights Tuesday of an agreement with Greenville developer Bob Hughes for the future development of the 181-acre Bull Street campus  (Photo/James T. Hammond)
“I’m committed to it,” Benjamin said about his hopes for a baseball stadium to be home of a minor league baseball team. “We must have a full-fledged discussion in City Council. And we would require a team owner with some skin in the game.”

Benjamin estimated that the redevelopment of the Bull Street tract will have a $1 billion economic impact on the city.

The city and Hughes will have milestones to meet under the agreement.

The city is committing to fund $31.25 million of infrastructure improvements over four development phases. In order to receive the full amount of the city’s investment, Hughes must invest at least $81.25 million.

The city is committed to build two parking decks with a total of 1,600 spaces if Hughes meets any one of three conditions:

  • Develop 120,000 square feet of property.
  • Rehabilitate the Babcock Building.
  • Build a baseball stadium.

Hughes did not attend the media event on the steps of the historic Babcock Center on the Bull Street campus. But Benjamin said emphatically that “Bob Hughes has big plans for this project.”

Benjamin said that in the development agreement, Hughes has committed to invest at least $5 for each $1 invested by the city in infrastructure on the site, to attempt to protect historic buildings and legacy trees on the campus, and to build a police substation for the city police department.

“This is the largest project of its type east of the Mississippi and probably in the nation,” the mayor said. “This project is a true partnership between the city of Columbia and a visionary and well-respected developer.”

Benjamin made clear that one of the city’s chief objectives is to get the 181 acres back on the city’s property tax rolls. Columbia’s property tax revenue suffers from the fact that so much of city property is owned by the state of South Carolina or major tax-exempt institutions such as the University of South Carolina. Returning the Bull Street property to private ownership will mean a major increase in the city’s revenue on an ongoing basis.

But full build-out of the redeveloped property is expected to take at least 20 years. The public funds will only be used for public projects, such as streets, water and sewer, as well as the parking facilities.

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