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Developer takes over historic building at center of Columbia's BullStreet District

Babcock Building

The dome of the Babcock Center is visible symbol of the BullStreet District. A private developer is almost ready to convert it into apartments. Provided

COLUMBIA — The historic Babcock Building, the linchpin of the redevelopment of the former S.C. Department of Mental Health campus, has been turned over to a private developer who plans to convert it to apartments.

The red cupola-topped building that decades ago was known as the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, has been transferred Clachan Properties, a Richmond, Va.-based historic redeveloper.

The announcement of the transfer was made Friday by Hughes Development, the Greenville-based company overseeing a 20-year project to make a vibrant neighborhood out of the former DMH campus.

"We gave Clachan the building with full confidence that they will honor its history and give it a bright future," company President Robert Hughes said in a statement.

Clachan plans to create 208 apartments in the historic building, which dates to 1885. 

State and federal approvals are in place for the work on the site, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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One piece of the regulatory puzzle remains: approval of a loan by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The building has been closed since 1996. A fire in December 2018 damaged much of the roof. Taxpayers spent about $400,000 on a temporary repair because the building was still considered state property.

In October, Clachan projected that the first two phases of new apartments could be ready in the second half of 2021. Clachan's goal was to have all apartments ready by the end of 2022.

The building presents substantial challenges to the redeveloper in trying to create one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments out of a building that features masonry walls 20 inches or more thick. Designers hopes to save about two-thirds of the Babcock's 1,400 historic windows. 

Among the recreational amenities the complex will have are a dog park, a garden with room to grill and a swimming pool tucked in between wings of the structure.

The estimated monthly rent would be about $1,100 for a 600-square-foot apartment, Clachan President Hugh Shytle said in October.

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