Located just a mile from USC’s campus, the BullStreet District was once home to a self-sustaining mental facility and hundreds of patients. Today, that same land houses the largest urban revitalization effort east of the Mississippi. The 20-year redevelopment plan began in 2015 and remains on track for a 2034 completion.
The BullStreet District will welcome a new Starbucks location on Friday, Jan. 15, followed by Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant later this summer. Construction will also continue this year on infrastructure across the area; 20 acres of public park; and West Lawn, a retail and office building. These projects join in an effort to create a “city-within-a-city,” where visitors can find food, work and fun all within the district’s limits.
“If I'm meeting you at BullStreet and I’m 15 minutes late, you're not going to be upset because there's something interesting going on,” Chandler Cox, project manager of the BullStreet District for Hughes Development Corporation, said. “And maybe you don't come to BullStreet for a reason, but you say, ‘I'm going to go have dinner. Let's go to BullStreet, and then we'll figure it out from there,’ because it's just a really cool place to be.”
The project’s vision is two-fold, Cox said. For one, it will integrate the hospital campus back into the community after remaining largely off-limits for the past two decades.
The project is also an effort to attract and retain talent at Columbia’s universities. Whereas professionals might move to bigger markets upon graduation, Cox said, BullStreet will bring in employers that will entice graduates to stay in Columbia. Global tech company Capgemini has already introduced nearly 500 jobs to the city since moving to BullStreet in December 2017, according to Cox.
When Hughes Development Corporation purchased BullStreet from the state of South Carolina, it was the only group interested in developing the entire 181-acre campus for community use. The corporation also committed to historically preserving 10 buildings.
This blend of the area’s past and present adds to the draw for prospective businesses. Greg Hilton, co-founder and managing partner at SOCO, was one of the first business owners to move into the BullStreet District. SOCO provides coworking space and community for independent professionals and creators. Hilton said the business was looking for an interesting historical spot to open a new location when he heard about BullStreet’s 110-year-old bakery building.
“I remember going through it before we started anything, and it just had so much potential. It was dirty and ugly, but beautiful bones, exposed brick, these giant wood beams in the ceiling,” Hilton said. “Once they showed us the building, we were definitely in love.”
Before attracting businesses, however, redevelopment projects must focus on building infrastructure such as parking, sidewalks and sewer systems, according to Matt Kennell, president and CEO of City Center Partnership. It’s what happened on Main Street 20 years ago, he said, and it’s what is happening in BullStreet today.
Kennell has overseen Main Street’s development for the past 20 years. When he began his work to revitalize the area in the late '90s, most restaurants and retailers had already left the area.
"It was really just a place that you kinda had to go to," Kennell said. "Unless you were going to a bank to do business with the city or go to the hospital, there really wasn't a whole lot of reason to come downtown."
Main Street has since grown into an entertainment hub within the community, but the change was not immediate.
“Like everybody else, I wish [BullStreet] could be happening faster, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the commitment of the Hughes Development team. It’s a giant project,” Hilton said. “It was a giant derelict wasteland of nothing.”
Although current students might not be around for the project's completion, some will see noticeable change during their time in Columbia.
“Current freshmen at USC, or any of the other universities, it’ll be a whole new neighborhood by the time you graduate,” Cox said. “It’s a really cool time to be a young person in Columbia.”
Correction (Jan. 11, 2021, at 5:19 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated there would be 25 acres of public park. There will be 20 acres of public park.