Bull Street's Babcock Building under contract with hotel developer

Published: May. 21, 2014 at 9:08 PM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2014 at 9:02 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - One thing you notice right away about Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, is what it's made of. The bricks that give the field it's look don't just look old, they are old.

The stadium was created with a half million of them, salvaged from mill buildings as the textile industry once so dominant in this region gave way to a more diverse economy.

Saving pieces of the past is also part of the plan to recast Columbia's Bull Street property. Maybe the most important historical component is the mammoth Babcock building on the southwestern corner of the campus. With origins predating the Civil War, Babcock has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981. But finding a new use for it has been a tough problem for Bull Street developer Bob Hughes.

However, that problem has now been solved.

"We've got the Babcock building under contract to a great hotel developer with extensive experience in renovating older buildings into hotels," said Hughes.

Hughes did not reveal the name of the company.

The building has been vandalized and damaged by weather. Babcock and the rest of the property are supposed to be patrolled by security officers and off limits without permission from the Department of Mental Health, but trespassing is common.

Video said to have been shot last December and posted on YouTube shows the severe deterioration inside Babcock. One portion may show graffiti left behind by a crew that used Babcock as a backdrop for the 2007 Kevin Bacon movie "Death Sentence." At another point in the video, the intruders discover a pile of razors, hypodermic needles, and what they suggest are blood sample vials on the floor.

Hughes says saving and transforming the building will clearly be a huge job.

"They've got some challenges in front of them because that is a very big building with a whole lot of needs," said Hughes. "And we have committed to restoring that building to be sure that it's not demolished."

As of now, the Columbia Common development plan puts the stadium footprint in the area between Babcock and another major structure, the Williams building.

Another YouTube video shot in February shows the current view from what would be home plate, looking down the right field line. It's the territory where baseball team owner Jason Freier expects to plant Columbia's new single-A franchise within the next year or two.

Freier says the current plan calls for saving the Ensor building and incorporating it into a stadium with the playing surface below ground level.

"What we're looking at is having the field essentially dug into the ground so there will be a concourse running all around the ballpark," said Freier.

Voted Ballpark of the Year in 2006, Greenville's Fluor Field features condos anchored by a restaurant over the left field wall. The Bull Street stadium will have even more surrounding the outfield, stores and offices or apartments with unobstructed views.

"If you're a tenant in this building you can have events in this room during games and people can enjoy the ball game," said Hughes.

"We are trying to create a place there. The center of that place around baseball. But when they're not playing baseball, there could be a farmer's market in there every Saturday. There could be a car show. There could be concerts at night."

We reached Hardball Capital CEO Freier as he was about to meet with Savannah City Council members last week. He owns the Savannah Sand Gnats, the Sally League team that much speculation suggests could move to Columbia if Savannah does not take steps toward construction of a new ballpark in that city. But the Savannah council is continuing to study the feasibility of a new stadium.

Freier hasn't ruled out keeping the Sand Gnats where they are. He says it won't matter if that happens because he will find a team to play at Columbia Common.

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