Press and Media

‘Tech Corridor’ Envisioned for BullStreet

Originally published Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at:

By Xavier Edwards



With two hip tech firms now open at BullStreet, there’s a sense that the downtown development, and Columbia as a whole, wants consideration as a serious destination for young professionals.

The SOCO co-working space, opened in the Vista in 2012, acts as a hub where creatives can collaborate and, ultimately, get s#!t done. The workspace opened its second location in a former bakery on the campus of the former state mental hospital during a soft launch on Sep. 26.

SOCO-cofounder Greg Hilton says partnering with the The Iron Yard — a web development training program that held classes in SOCO’s Gervais Street loft before establishing a home base at BullStreet — made perfect sense.

“The reason SOCO and The Iron Yard work so well together, at least here in Columbia, is that we have a really clear, shared vision,” Hilton says. “Build community. Teach people skills that are relevant. Build things that matter to the world.”

Heather Dughaish, campus director for The Iron Yard coding school’s Columbia location, echoes Hilton’s sentiment.

“We work together on building a strong community of makers — of doers. We’re tired of talking about the city being passive and just being consumers,” she says. “We want people to be able to build things, which is why we’re building this.”

The Iron Yard is a 12-week web development school with campuses around the nation, but this kind of cohabitating arrangement is a first for The Iron Yard, playing into the communal approach Hilton and Dughaish are promoting.

“I think we’re beginning to see the upswing. I think this new space and creating this buzz over here is really going to help, and we’re putting our stake in the crowd in this whole BullStreet development,” Dughaish says. “We’re also going to be an anchor in this ‘tech corridor’ that we’re calling it. I think we’re at that turning point in Columbia, a good one.”

Local architectural firm 1×1 Design helped plan the bakery’s interior layout, which has the makings of a hip office space meant to encourage creative freedom. There are a couple of formal offices near the entrance, and a classroom used primarily by Iron Yard students sits across the lobby. The main communal work area is sparse, open; a small couch and table sit on one side of the room, and larger wooden tables dot the center space. There’s graffiti on exposed brick, a high ceiling and a good amount of open windows. A small kitchen and patio help round out the area. What they lack in size, they balance with a view overlooking Spirit Communications Park. Also, there’s free coffee.

Greenville company Hughes Development renovated the bakery building. Hughes bought the Bull Street campus from the state for $15 million, completing the years-long transaction in early 2015, with plans for a live-work-play community on the 180-acre site. So far, BullStreet is home to a new minor-league baseball stadium and an office building; Hughes has also announced plans for a 10-screen movie theater to open by summer 2018.

Hilton says being connected to this burgeoning social district played a role in expanding SOCO to a second location.

“For us, one thing that’s great about this location is access. It’s not a huge space, but it gives us access to all the amenities that BullStreet will have in a couple years — the stadium and all the other social events they’re going to do like concerts.”

The Bakery at BullStreet isn’t the only recent shift toward a more tech-friendly Columbia. Main Street’s new, modern branding, and crowdsourcing initiatives like What’s Next Midlands — a voting platform to decide what projects local leaders should pursue to improve quality of life in and around the Capital City — seem geared toward attracting young professionals. Companies like IT-ology, the Columbia Opportunity Resource and the University of South Carolina’s Technology Incubator also play a part in attracting young talent.

With Hughes Development fronting the bill for the bakery building, the path for SOCO seems paved for success. But Hilton is aware that there is more work to be done.

“Look, we’re a startup in a small yet mighty initiative. Exposure is always great. This place is beautiful, but now we have to fill up. The challenge in Columbia is one we’ve always had. There’s this independent movement, this creative movement — tapping into that. Harnessing that and helping to grow things like this.”