BullStreet operations officer Robert Hughes says redevelopment project ahead of schedule
Originally published July 30, 2016 at: http://www.thestate.com/news/business/article92625082.html
BY JEFF WILKINSON
A Greenville native, Robert attended Duke University and spent five years in New York City before returning to Greenville in 2012 to work in his family’s business. In New York, Robert worked in sales and trading for Lehman Brothers and Barclays Capital before receiving his master of business administration from Columbia University.
At Hughes Development, he has overseen numerous projects in Greenville, including the acquisition and renovation of the 16-story, 196,000-square-foot Bank of America Tower on Main Street, as well as the final construction and leasing of the 400,000-square-foot Greenville ONE mixed-use development completed in 2013. Greenville ONE consists of two towers of nine stories and 11 stories with offices over retail.
Hughes’ main focus today is the BullStreet development, where he is managing day-to-day operations on site while his father, Bob Hughes, oversees the overall development plan and vision.
BullStreet is zoned for more than 3.3 million square feet of commercial space and more than 3,500 residential units, making it one of the largest development sites in South Carolina. With a 20-year timeline, BullStreet is anticipated to have a $1.2 billion annual economic impact on the region once completed.
Last week, he answered these five questions from The State newspaper.
What is the significance of this month’s Cobb Theatre announcement?
Cobb Theatres announcing their Luxury 10 Theatre concept at BullStreet was an important milestone for the project. Amenities like a full-service restaurant and bar have been popping up in movie theaters in major cities for more than a decade, and we are thrilled in-theater dining is coming to the Columbia market.
Our retail development partner, who is responsible for recruiting retail, hotel and hospitality businesses for this phase of BullStreet, is having a lot of success attracting tenants, and it’s always good when their successes can be shared publicly.
As master developer, our role is to find other developers who specialize in specific product types like retail, hotel or residential to be our development partners. We also step up and fill in the gaps when needed, as we did with the First Base Building, which had to be built simultaneously with Spirit Communications Park in order to achieve the level of integration we desired.
Our focus at BullStreet is place-making, a term that is often overused in New Urbanism, but is the philosophy to which our company has subscribed in our work in downtown Greenville over the last 20 years. It is all about creating vibrant, walkable streets with a mix of residential, retail, restaurant and recreational uses, all interconnected with well-planned public spaces that bring the community together.
We are a little more than two years into the 20-year BullStreet project and already have over half of the acreage under contract or in development. Said another way, just more than 10 percent of the projected timeline has passed and more than 50 percent of the project is already underway. That is substantially ahead of our projections, and we are optimistic about the progress that continues to be made.
Will we be seeing any improvements in the parking and general appearance around Spirit Communications Park soon? For next season?
A lot of that will depend on our development partners, but you should see a lot more active construction surrounding the ballpark when next season begins. All of the retail, residential and other elements currently being designed – including a 20-acre public park with a dog park, pond, walking/jogging trails, public art and playing fields – will be built with the ballpark’s needs in mind. With a 181-acre site, there are a lot of options for temporary lots as we move forward, with the end result being an abundance of permanent parking for the ballpark and for every part of BullStreet.
For the first part of this year, we were in an all-out sprint to complete the ballpark and First Base Building in time for opening night. The hope was to ensure the best possible fan experience for the inaugural season, and we believe that the team has delivered just that. The Fireflies have shattered attendance records, and the stadium recently won the highly coveted “Ballpark of the Year” award from Ballpark Digest. Hardball Capital’s team on the ground, led by John Katz, does an unbelievable job programming the venue, and we are excited for all of the non-baseball events that will continue into the fall.
Do you have any new prospects for the First Base Building, particularly hospitality?
We have had a lot of positive feedback on the First Base Building and expect to have additional leases signed in the very near future (in fact, we are expecting a confirmation on one of these this week). With all of the successes elsewhere on the site, interest in the building has never been higher. Almost every day someone visits the site and says, “Wow, this is one of the nicest places I’ve seen.” While that feedback is encouraging, it means that we have the opportunity to show more people the progress we have made. There are still spaces available for restaurants to have outdoor seating right on the ballpark concourse, which is one of the many unique features of the building.
We are working hard to fulfill our vision of creating an experience authentic to Columbia, that attracts people from all over the state. The ballpark and First Base Building are great first steps in that direction, and we are excited for what is to come over the next two to three years.
When can we expect to see work begin on the landmark Babcock Building?
The Babcock Building, which we have been calling the second most famous dome in Columbia, is the most iconic building on the site, and we are excited that Clachan Properties, based in Richmond, Va., is planning to convert the building into roughly 200 apartments. They are working with the National Park Service to be sure that the right historic attributes are being preserved, which can be a long process, but we believe they have the right team in place and the level of experience to pull it off. Three other existing buildings on site are currently undergoing re-development: Parker Annex, the Bakery at BullStreet and the Ensor Building.
Our original contract with the city committed us to saving five structures on the campus. Right now we are on track to restore eight buildings, with a chance for more. We are actively trying to preserve as much of the history as we can, while also delivering on our vision of creating a world-class city within a city – an urban, walkable environment where you can wake up in the morning and bike to breakfast, hit the dog park, and stroll to the movie theater, or stay in a hotel, dine in great restaurants and catch a baseball game – all in the middle of downtown Columbia.
What has gone better than expected? Worse than expected?
This project has been full of ups and downs, but that seems to be the case with every development. The good news is we feel like most of the downs are behind us. We were obviously impacted by the flood (in October) and continue to see increases in construction prices, but we have benefited from increased interest in the Columbia market and the continued growth of Main Street and the Vista.
As this is our first major project in Columbia, it took time to develop relationships here and feel like ingrained members of the community. The good news is we no longer feel like outsiders and are constantly overwhelmed by the encouragement we receive. Someone from our team is in Columbia at least two days a week, and we are in the early stages of building our permanent office in BullStreet. Our relationships with countless members of city staff have made some of the bureaucratic parts of the development process seamless, and there is no way we would be having the successes we are without them. We also appreciate the encouragement and input we are getting from the business community, as well as from political and neighborhood leaders. It takes a coordinated effort to accomplish something of this magnitude, and we have a great team working toward the common goal of making BullStreet an incredible place.