Press and Media

It’s back: Iconic dome returns to the top of BullStreet’s Babcock three years after fire


By Chris Trainor, The State

Columbia got one of its icons back.

Three years after a raging fire seriously damaged the historic Babcock Building on the BullStreet District campus, the building’s signature, instantly recognizable cupola — a fixture of Columbia’s skyline in the Bull Street and Elmwood Avenue areas for more than 150 years — has been replaced.

Crews on Friday hoisted the new cupola on top of the building, bringing an end to an odyssey to replace that fixture which began in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 2020, when a multi-alarm fire engulfed parts of Babcock. More than 50 firefighters worked to quell the blaze that day.

The fire delayed — but did not stop — efforts to transform the building that is a key piece of the revitalization of the former State Mental Hospital campus along Bull Street. The city of Columbia and Greenville’s Hughes Development are in the midst of a 20-year plan to turn the sprawling 181-acre site into a multi-use district with residences, restaurants, a public park, retail, a minor league baseball stadium and more.

Virginia’s Clachan Properties has now completed a nearly $60 million project to transform the Babcock Building — which is now simply called The Babcock — into 208 luxury apartments. It features studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, some of which have a sweeping view of Segra Park baseball stadium. Essentially all of the units are now occupied or are soon to be occupied.

The Babcock was originally built in phases between 1857 and 1885. Prior to the recent revitalization and transformation into apartments, the building had been abandoned since the 1990s.

“After years of being abandoned, the restored Babcock Building stands as a testament to vision, collaboration and perseverance,” Clachan President Hugh Shytle said. “The revitalization of this historic building, which faced many obstacles, was made possible through the collective support of many individuals and groups, from visionary leaders, skilled architects and engineers, dedicated builders, historians and more.”

Progress at the BullStreet District has been steady in recent years.

The Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant opened at 945 Sabal St. in June, marking the first Columbia location for the national chain. A new Publico restaurant opened last year near Segra Park, where the Class A Columbia Fireflies are in the home stretch of their eighth season.

The Bennet at BullStreet apartments are under construction near the baseball stadium, and Tupelo Honey Cafe, a popular Asheville-based chain known for Southern cuisine, has announced it plans to have a restaurant on the first floor of the Bennet building.

There are residents living in townhomes on the southeastern part of the site, as well as in the Merrill Gardens senior living complex northeast of the stadium. A Starbucks cafe and an REI outdoor store are located on the western side of the property, near Bull Street.

Meanwhile, the University of South Carolina has long been planning a $300 million medical school campus on the northeast side of the BullStreet property. And accounting firm Elliott Davis will move into BullStreet’s WestLawn office building in the fall. The WestLawn building already is home to Robinson Gray law firm.

There also are plans for a food hall to be built in a former church on the property in the future.

While much has happened at BullStreet, with construction continuing on the site every week, Hughes Development President Robert Hughes acknowledged the restoration of the massive Babcock Building was critical to the entire enterprise.

“From the first day our team stepped foot on the BullStreet campus, we knew the entire 181-acre redevelopment would be judged by the ability to restore the historic Babcock Building,” Hughes said. “Our team is in awe of the work Clachan Properties has done to give this building, as well as the BullStreet District, new life.”