Many questions unanswered in Bull Street redevelopment
Tue, 19 Nov 2013 21:09:41 GMT —
COLUMBIA (WACH) -- The redevelopment of the former department of mental health campus on Bull Street is close to breaking ground.
The project is considered to be the largest development in any major downtown east of the Mississippi.
City leaders say this project will transform the capital city bringing restaurants, retail, offices, housing and even a baseball team.
"It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the council and the city stepping up to help with the public infrastructure portion of Bull Street it's a big deal," said Mayor Steve Benjamin.
"The source of funding is the number one issue right now. Before we start thinking about how many jobs, let's find out how we going to pay or bring 71 million dollars to fund the Bull Street," said City Councilman Moe Baddourah.
Baddourah argues that the city's own attorney Ken Gaines warned council not to approve the Bull Street development deal.
In a letter dated July 8th, the day before council approved the Bull Street proposal, Gaines advised city leaders of significant legal and financial risks the city could be held responsible for under the current agreement.
In the memo, Gaines warns council that the agreement with Greenville developer Bob Hughes could potentially leave Columbia on the hook for more than 50 million dollars in just three years.
"That's what makes it a bad deal for the city because it was pushed through, not getting all the details, obviously advised by our city attorneys not to make the deal for many reasons and it's obvious the source of funding was a huge problem," adds Baddourah.
A document form a June city council work session shows almost two dozen different sources tied to taxes, including hospitality, alcohol and tobacco taxes and water and sewer funds; however Benjamin pointing out the redevelopment will add 180 acres of new land to the city's tax roll.
"The Bull Street campus represents an area of land that is two and a half times the size of downtown Columbia and we have five public garages in downtown Columbia, we committed to two for Bull Street," adds Benjamin.
The project is also catching the eyes of historical leaders.
While the agreement says it will protect several of the historically significant buildings on the property including: The Babcock building, the Williams building, the Chapel of Hope and Tree Allee.
The Historic Columbia foundation is afraid too many of the buildings will be torn down simply due to a lack of planning.
"How we're going to fund and how we're going to pay for the roads and everything else that's going on. The baseball stadium, the parking garages, we need to determine how much money we're going to fund or put into the project for us to understand what's the rate of return," said Baddourah.
"The reality is if Columbia is going to survive and thrive then we've got to grow, we've got to take advantage of the opportunity that is Bull Street, we've got to take advantage of developing the river front for the first time in 240 years, we've got to recognize that great city's grow from the inside out," concludes Benjamin
The first business on the Bull Street property is expected to open sometime next year.
The city says they expect the full development of the campus to take 20 years.