How Columbia’s BullStreet District is creating a new vision of urban living

By Christina Lee Knauss

Bennet at BullStreet, currently under construction, will offer 269 luxury apartments along with retail space.

Every day when Joann Turnquist comes to work at the First Base Building in Columbia’s BullStreet District, she sees something different outside her windows.

Turnquist, president and CEO of the Central Carolina Community Foundation, a Midlands nonprofit, has been a tenant at BullStreet since 2019, and she has been able to witness the daily growth and transformation of the historic 181-acre former campus of the South Carolina State Hospital into a mixed-use district that offers something for visitors and residents of all ages.

“The vibrancy of the community really appeals to me – I see people of all ages every day, from senior residents at Merrill Garden to moms who have a planned stroller walk to college students and young professionals living in the Babcock building,” Turnquist said. “When the foundation moved here, we were excited to be one of the pioneers of what promised to be a vibrant and engaging community, and now we’re in a place that has an energy unlike anywhere else in Columbia.”

Since groundbreaking on the district in January 2015, the BullStreet District has become known as one of the largest urban redevelopment projects on the East Coast. The area is anchored by Segra Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team, and also includes a wide variety of businesses including REI Co-Op, Capgemeni, Founders Federal Credit Union, and Publico Kitchen and Tap, as well as Page Ellington Park, a 20-acre public park. The District also includes Merrill Gardens, an active senior community, and the first four phases of TownPark at BullStreet, a complex of 28 townhomes.

Besides the First Base Building where Turnquist’s office is located, the district also includes the innovative WestLawn Building. Unveiled in 2022, the structure holds retail and Class-A office space and is built from sustainable cross-laminated timber.

WestLawn’s innovative design and construction recently was awarded on March 8 when the project was named one of the recipients of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Golden Nail Award, an annual award given to businesses or property owners for exemplary contributions to the physical characteristics of the greater Midlands. 

Although it is already home to all this, change is still ongoing at BullStreet. Master developers Hughes Development Corp. is taking the site into its next phase with work on projects designed to fulfill the District’s goal of providing homes near downtown Columbia for people from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of income levels.

“This is the most exciting time to be at BullStreet because you can stand anywhere on campus and see the vision taking shape,” said Chandler Cox, BullStreet project manager for Hughes Development “We’ve had such a good partnership with the city of Columbia and it’s been nice to see it continue to grow since the beginning.”

Work is currently ongoing at the site on housing for everyone from young professionals who might be drawn to apartments in the renovated, historic Babcock Center to those seeking a luxury apartment, who will be able to find those as well as retail space at the much-anticipated Bennet at BullStreet.

 Further down the road are plans for MidTown at BullStreet, a 90-unit apartment and townhome complex adjacent to Page Ellington Park that will be attainably priced, which means pricing for rents will be affordable for those who make roughly 60-70% to 120% of an area’s median income.

Ground was broken in September 2021 for the Bennet, a 280,000-square-foot luxury apartment community that will eventually house 269 luxury apartments and house more than 500 residents, according to figures released by BullStreet District. The complex is by far the most visible construction on the campus, located between Boyce Street and Pickens Street and just behind the Westlawn Building. The Bennet is also notable because it includes not only luxury apartments but 45,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

The developer for the apartment segment of the Bennet is Proffitt Dixon Partners out of Charlotte, a multifamily investment and development firm specializing in luxury apartment communities around the Southeast, with a focus on the Carolinas and Tennessee. Once complete, the Bennet at BullStreet will offer studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 550 to 1,600 square feet, and a wide variety of onsite amenities including a saltwater pool, sun decks, heated spa, grilling areas, an entertainment pavilion, and two dedicated dog parks.

The project also includes a 350-space parking garage, which will be in addition to two other parking garages already underway on the campus, officials said. Once these garages are complete, BullStreet will have more than 1,300 structured parking and 1,100 surface parking spaces accessible to residents, workers, and visitors.

Axiom Architecture out of Charlotte is the architect for the Bennet project, while Charlotte-based Samet Corporation is the contractor.

Hughes Development Corp. will be handling the retail segment of the Bennet, and the goal is to attract retailers and restaurants that will complement nearby tenants REI, Starbucks, and Iron Hill Brewery, which is currently under construction.

The goal is to have Bennet at BullStreet open later in 2023.

Construction is ongoing at The Babcock Building, by far the most recognizable historic structure on the former State Hospital campus. The 254,000-square-building is being transformed into 200 apartments by Clachan Properties out of Virginia, a company that specializes in massive historic renovation projects. And massive is the word for the Babcock project.

Originally built in 1885 as the central building of the S.C. State Hospital, the Babcock is best known in many long-time residents’ memories as a place for the treatment of mental health patients and is listed on the National Register of Historic places. The brick building with its high domed cupola came to symbolize the State Hospital and its history, and it sat falling into disrepair over many years. The iconic cupola’s dome was destroyed in a September 2020 fire.

The building started to literally rise from the ashes after federal funding was secured in December 2020.

The first phase of construction on the project is complete and some tenants have already moved in, while work is ongoing on other sections. Builders have followed strict guidelines to preserve the building’s distinctive lines, and historic windows are being refurbished.

The Babcock will offer studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with distinctive layouts and modern amenities, as well as special features such as a lounge area for residents, a yoga studio, a game room, and a yoga studio.

A bit of the “old” look of BullStreet also will return later this year when the refurbished historic dome is returned to the top of the Babcock cupola, with a special ceremony in the works for its placement.

Reach Christina Lee Knauss at 803-753-4327.