For years, many in Columbia have hoped to see the BullStreet development gain more momentum, particularly in regard to retail. And, with the March announcement that an REI Co-op will be constructed near Bull and Freed streets — the first national retailer for the site — it appears things are beginning to ramp up.
But momentum apparently comes with some major physical changes at the property.
Specifically, there are fewer trees on the site now than there were a few weeks ago. Nearly six dozen fewer trees.
According to City of Columbia special projects administrator Gregory Tucker, roughly 70 trees have been taken down at BullStreet during the last couple weeks in the area of Bull, Freed and Boyce streets. That is in the northwest portion of the sprawling, 181-acre site that was once home to the state’s mental hospital. The City of Columbia and Greenville’s Hughes Development have been working to redevelop the site for the last five years.
Tucker and Hughes Development say the tree removals in that corridor came about as part of an effort to prepare the land for the coming 20,000-square-foot REI store, and as part of what will be an effort to straighten Freed Street. Eventually Freed will run in a straight line from Bull back to the eastern side of the property, where a public park is under construction.
The trees that were removed were either dead, or found to be in fair or poor condition by an arborist. Tucker says arborist Andy Boone examined the trees. Trees that were removed that were in at least fair condition will be “mitigated” — i.e. replaced. The city’s development agreement with Hughes stipulates that any healthy trees that are taken down at the development must be replaced.
This isn't the first time a big batch of trees have been removed at BullStreet. There was also a round of cutting in 2017.
Tucker says that a number of the trees that were recently removed have been sent to a saw mill and that wood from them will be repurposed. The remainder of the trees are being mulched, and that mulch will be used in the under-construction park on the site.
Information provided by Hughes Development indicates that it has also planted 90 new trees at the site in recent years.
In other tree business at BullStreet, Tucker notes arborists also recently examined a number of the old, soaring oaks that line Pickens Street. Those trees have long provided a picturesque canopy along the central drive that runs just west of the Babcock Building and the First Base Building.
Tucker says officials noted that those trees loom over active parking spots.
"What it was is the arborist was working on that front [Freed Street area] section, and he happened to see where some parking spots were striped along Pickens Street," Tucker says. "He goes, 'Wow, I didn't realize y'all were parking on Pickens.' He saw there were some trees with some pretty significant dead branches in the top."
Subsequently, those trees were evaluated. Some of them are set to have dead branches trimmed out. Five of them, Tucker says, have been deemed to be in poor condition, and will be removed.
There is plenty of readily visible construction and work going on at BullStreet. Aside from the site prep for the REI store, there is also the construction of the aforementioned 20-acre public park, a project that will likely be completed in the late summer. Also, the construction of Merrill Gardens, a large senior living facility northeast of Segra Park, the Columbia Fireflies' baseball stadium, is continuing. The outer brickwork has begun on the senior living facility.