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Columbia's historic Babcock Building usable after massive fire, BullStreet leader says

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Bull St Fire (copy)

Firefighters work to quell a fire at the Historic Babcock Building at Bull Street Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Columbia. According to developers, The Bull Street District is the largest city-center development east of the Mississippi. Photo by Sean Rayford

Despite the damage of a huge fire this month, the Babcock Building that's a cornerstone of the ambitious BullStreet District should be able to still be used for historic redevelopment, the project's top executive said Monday.

Robert Hughes, president of BullStreet master developer Hughes Development, said fire damaged the building's center, destroying the building's iconic garnet cupola, but was not destructive to the rest of the 254,000-square-foot structure thanks to the efforts of Columbia and Fort Jackson firefighters. 

Speaking to a Columbia Rotary meeting, Hughes called the Sept. 12 fire "probably the toughest day in BullStreet's history."

Hughes said that the fire at the former Department of Mental Heath site was like a nightmare for him as it was happening.

"It was definitely a gut punch," Hughes told the group. 

"I really thought at some point during that morning that it happened that, 'I'm going to wake up, this isn't real.'"

Hughes said many decisions still need to be made about the restoration plan for the building. His company will be working with redeveloper Clachan Properties of Richmond, Va., which already had possession of the building and was close to launching work.

The pre-fire plan was to convert the longtime hospital into more than 200 apartments.

"We are optimistic but there still is a lot of work to be done," Hughes said.

The cause of the fire that caused millions in damage remains under investigation. 

Despite the setback at Babcock, other parts of the BullStreet project should show major growth in the coming months.

The Starbucks on the site adjacent to Bull Street should open in December or January next to the REI outdoors store that opened this fall, he said. Other new tenants at BullStreet are likely to be announced soon.

Hughes also expects to hold a formal opening for the city park that sprawls across the campus this fall.

The park includes a section of Smith Branch Creek that was brought out of underground pipes to flow again across the site in a restored creek bed. 

The park with the restored creek flowing through it becomes the second-largest one in the city, Hughes said.

Follow him on Twitter at

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