Developer Bob Hughes revealed more information about his plans for Bull Street Thursday morning as he and Mayor Steve Benjamin spoke at the quarterly Power Breakfast Series put on by SC Biz News. Here are some high points of Hughes’ presentation.
“We’re going to start moving dirt this summer,” Hughes said. Completing the full project in 14 to 15 years would be “a big success,” but even 20 years would be “not bad.”
Work on the minor league baseball stadium is expected to begin in early fall. (Jason Freier, CEO of Hardball Capital, said play will begin in April 2016. The team and affiliation will be announced about a year in advance.)
Work on two buildings will be underway at the same time the ballpark is under construction.
A company in New Orleans that specializes in renovation of historic buildings is under contract to turn the Babcock Building into a hotel and conference center. Hughes described it as a first-class hotel with about 200 rooms, but he declined to name the New Orleans company.
While the architectural look of buildings will be compatible, the look will not be identical. “Any great place is a stew of influences,” Hughes said. Development of the project over the years will be “controlled chaos – you want the best ideas to win.”
Apartments and condominium will probably be three- and four-story buildings. There might be some detached housing. While the agreement with the city allows up to 3,500 residents, “We will almost certainly be under that.” There will be some senior housing, most likely the “active living” type rather than assisted living, which requires more open space.
“We would like an elementary school on the site.” There have been discussions with the Richland 1 School District but “we decided we need to show what we’re doing first.”
The goal is a core density of one, meaning a ratio of one square foot of building for every one square foot of land on the site. But that doesn’t mean there will be no trees and grass. There will be a 20-acre park and lake and probably some pocket parks.
Retail interest is already high. At a trade show in Las Vegas, retailers representing 350,000 square feet of space visited the Hughes booth. They weren’t asking questions like “Why should I go to South Carolina” but rather inquiries that showed serious interest like “How big can my sign be?” and “How soon can I open?”
“I’m tired of Columbia making excuses for being hot,” Hughes said. The average temperature is “six degrees cooler than Dallas.” (And the mayor got a laugh when he said “I agree we’re cooler than Dallas.”)
While there are complaints that the project is too far from the city’s business center, the difference in the distance from the Hyatt hotel to the ballpark in Greenville is nearly identical to the distance from the State House to the ballpark on Bull Street.
The ballpark will be “a huge catalyst” for economic development. “Minor league baseball remakes communities.” Bringing 7,000 people to the site 70 times has far more impact than filling a huge football stadium a handful of times a year.
Hughes would like his company to do about one third of the billion-dollar Bull Street project. He invited other developers to come to him with their project ideas.
On the timetable: “I think there will be some places to live by August 2015. We’re letting the market and organic growth determine the phases.”
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