South Carolina’s Shame

NEARLY A DECADE LATER, ABANDONED GOVERNMENT CAMPUS STILL DETERIORATING, DRAINING REVENUE It’s a perfect metaphor for a corrupt, crumbling state … a vast, government-owned wasteland that is rotting away in the heart of a declining urban center.  Nearly two years after its sale, the largest tract of developable urban land…


It’s a perfect metaphor for a corrupt, crumbling state … a vast, government-owned wasteland that is rotting away in the heart of a declining urban center.  Nearly two years after its sale, the largest tract of developable urban land east of the Mississippi River – Columbia, South Carolina’s infamous Bull Street property – remains undeveloped and off limits.

The sprawling 181-acre Bull Street property – which contains nearly sixty buildings (most of them neglected for decades) – has been a political football since 2004.  That’s when ex-S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford first proposed selling the former home of the S.C. Department of Mental Health (SCDMH).

In his 2004-05 Executive Budget, Sanford noted that “as recent(ly) as the late 1960’s the campus housed over 3,000 patients but is now down below 300 patients.”  Nonetheless, SCDMH spent $46 million on the property in FY 2003-04.  Sanford’s proposal?  Shut down the few remaining operational buildings and sell the campus – with the proceeds going to taxpayers.

Makes sense, right?  Of course it does … which is why it should have been done years ago.

Even greedy state and local politicians have long recognized the value of such a deal in terms of tax revenue – and the jobs they could take credit for creating.  In fact former Columbia, S.C. Bob Coble has previously hailed the development of the Bull Street property as “Columbia’s BMW,” referring to the economic impact of the German carmaker’s Upstate, S.C. manufacturing facility.

Unfortunately, this is South Carolina – where walking and chewing gum simultaneously is the equivalent of rocket science.  As a result, “Columbia’s BMW” has been a major bust.

More than eight years after Sanford proposed its sale (and two years after it was actually sold to Greenville, S.C. developer Bob Hughes) the property’s status remains in limbo – losing additional value as its buildings deteriorate further.  In 2000, the Bull Street campus was assessed at $32 million – although it failed to fetch even half that amount by the time it finally found a buyer.

As with other outdated assets, the state of South Carolina missed its window to unload the property.

In fact Bull Street has continued to drain funds from taxpayers – not only in maintenance costs but hundreds of thousands of dollars for various “urban renewal” plans for the property.

Sale of the property to Hughes was announced in December 2010 for $15 million (a sum payable over seven years).  This deal was approved in June 2011 by the S.C. Budget and Control Board (SCBCB).

The reclusive developer’s plan?

“We will stress diversity in land use, income levels and ethnicity as we plan and build,” he said last summer. “It will be a special place where people can live, work, shop and enjoy a variety of cultural and recreational activities within walking distance.”

However eighteen months have passed since the sale was approved and … nothing.

Not only has there been no new development on the property – there’s still a big “contract pending” sign stuck in front of it.  And no one has been willing to talk to us on the record regarding its status.

While touring and photographing the facility is technically prohibited without written permission, FITS was able to obtain access to the grounds this weekend.

What did we see?  Rust, asbestos and overgrowth …

Take a look at this gallery (and once you’re inside, you can click on each image a second time to view it in high resolution).

(Click to enlarge)

Vector illustration aa Disaster.Garbageman holding a black bin bag and pointing isolated on white background

What a disgrace …

South Carolina taxpayers should be outraged at this development … or rather this lack of development.  They should also be outraged that they won’t be seeing a penny of the proceeds from the sale of this property (assuming it really sold) – as the S.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the cash from the sale must flow back into the state’s mental health bureaucracy.

Is SCDMH hurting for cash?  Hardly.  The agency received $387.1 million in the current state budget – including $151.6 million in state funds.

In addition to eliminating non-core government functions, South Carolina must get rid of its unused and underutilized assets.  Sadly, Bull Street is quickly turning into a case study of how NOT to do that.


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Observant November 26, 2012 at 11:09 am

But you didn’t show the Eyesore and the Jewel of the Architecture (the conjoined Jarrett Junkpile and the Magnificent Mills Building) in the “developed” part.

Would be nice if in ‘redevelopment’ they would tear down the Jarrett Junkpile.

Peter O November 26, 2012 at 11:27 am

Is it really the state at fault here, or the city of Columbia’s meddling?

I haven’t been following this story that closely, but I’ve thought the problem is a nervous City Council wanting a say in any development plans. That and people fighting the destruction of “historical” buildings.

Trevor Bauknight November 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Well, they’re not only historical, but some of them are quite beautiful. I’d say it’s wise to maintain some control over development at that central city location. The grounds sprawl all the way to Harden Street, though, and there’s plenty of room for commercial and residential development, even around the handful of historical buildings at the core of the vast campus.

GreenvilleLwyr November 26, 2012 at 11:30 am

“FITS was able to obtain access to the grounds this weekend”

In other words, trespassing.

Johnson November 26, 2012 at 11:30 am

The right pockets have not been properly lined yet is my take.

dwb619 November 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Maybe NIMRATA can sell it to WAL_MART or Mantena.

? November 26, 2012 at 11:39 am

If it’s a former crazy house, what’s the problem with putting it back in service and moving all SC’s pols into their new offices?

Smirks November 26, 2012 at 11:51 am

There are some psychological conditions medical science still can’t treat?

? November 26, 2012 at 11:54 am

That’s what lobotomy’s are for.

Negro November 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm

They are still working to cure queers there?

? November 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Ha! Watching American Horror Story? It’s decent.

Super Brandon November 26, 2012 at 11:48 am

That’s insane….sorry, it was just too easy.

Susan November 26, 2012 at 11:49 am

Maybe it is fitting to have the place rotting away within the gates just as inmates – or patients – did for years. Go and read some of the committment papers from the 20’s and 30’s…one lady was admitted for “excessive talking”; thats all it took to get a one way ticket there and it happened for a lot of what I would guess to be menopausal ladies. Chicora Foundation I think did a cemetery survey within those gates too. I’d say there was a lot of evil in that place and a lot of it didn’t come from the inmates.

? November 26, 2012 at 11:56 am

Insane asylum’s have a long history of being tools of gov’t power.

Those connected can have people committed for the flimsiest of reasons. Russia was VERY good at this…but we have our own dirty little history here that isn’t as well known.

sid November 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

“one lady was admitted for ‘excessive talking’”

If only it were still that easy. Wouldn’t most women be locked up?

MountainPenelope November 26, 2012 at 11:59 am

Columbia has been wise, so far, to fend Hughes off. Guess he doesn’t have the mayor in his pocket like he does in Greenville.

Do not trust anything that man says or does.

vicupstate November 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I have lived in both Columbia and Greenville, for 8 and 16 years respectively, and I will take Greenville’s government and it’s results, over Columbia’s any day. And that is comimg from a Democrat.

vicupstate November 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm

The reason you haven’t gotten any response is because the respondents don’t consider FITS News a credible news source.

The property was given in a Will for the Mental Health Commission to use for their purposes. Therefore, it was correct and only legal that they (and not the state’s general fund) received the money.

The vast majority of the time wasted has been due to the state trying to get it’s hands on the money, and the lawsuit over the same.

If someone with a brain (ie not Sanford or Coble) had been involved, it seems to me, the sale could have proceeded right away as long as the proceeds were put in escrow for whomever eventually won the lawsuit.

Hughes has only had partial control over it since 2010, and has only recently gotten the zoning and development approvals he wanted. This is a big project and it is still a weak economy. I would expect the pace to pick up soon.

9" November 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Let’s just hope those blessed ‘taxpayers’ never go fucking ‘crazy’.

Trevor Bauknight November 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm

It’s funny to see you mention decaying government buildings that, until Reagan put them back onto the streets, served the state’s mentally ill population while, at the same time, cheerleading policies that cause government properties and service to fall into further disrepair and disuse. You probably complain about the people that government used to be able to help beg for spare change and shit in your stairwell a few blocks away.

Do you really think the population of mentally ill people that probably ought to be institutionalized in South Carolina has fallen from 3,000 to 300?

sid November 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm

What, exactly, did Reagan do to put the mentally ill in SC on the streets? Court cases made it harder to institutionalize people against their will, as a matter of civil rights, but I’d love to see what it is you think Reagan did that impacted the mentally ill in SC.

Ironchef November 27, 2012 at 8:05 am

Advancements in drugs has kept them out of institutions. Not Reagan, sheesh.

I say this as a Dem.

EJB November 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm

It was easy to see that the Bull Street (BS) property was going to be a failure, many of the same people and institutions were involved as with the Central Correctional Institute property. That development was going to save Columbia, give it more revenue than it could spend in a ten year drunken binge and where is it? There are some buildings there but nothing near what was supposed to be built and most of the site is just barren. That has to be losing money. But what else is one to expect? Look at all the chicken poop requirements the politicians put on it.

But we have to beware the filthy developer. He will make a profit and screw everyone, horse poop. The developer is going to make money that is what business does. Without profits there is no business. They won’t spend more money and risk that extra loss if they can’t generate profits. If the sale of the BS property did go through I’m sure the developer is waiting for a more favorable circumstance so he can make money. Whenever “The State” does mention this project there is always a grocery list of silly things the politicians want for themselves at the developer’s expense. Why should he throw good money after bad? Leave him alone and he will develop something he can sell and make money at, the new development(s) will generate tax revenue and maybe bring in more people.

Observant November 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Ugly crap they built there, too. State should have made Old Bldg #1 a State Park attraction, as Arizona did with the Yuma Territorial Prison.

BradWarthenSucks November 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

They’re just waiting until they complete Innovista before starting on this project. Give it a few more weeks.

Old Bike Dude November 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I’d tread carefully here sic. Like the port of Port Royal and a certain contaminated property in Chucktown, this property may be the object of desire of your former boss and your favorite state senator.

Raspy November 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

The thing that will be funny when they build apartments or other housing there, is the number of ghosts that occupy that piece of real estate. The new residents may not deal very well when confronted by the older ones.

toyota kawaski November 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm

or mabey your voice will scare them off

Carpe Jugulum November 26, 2012 at 4:28 pm

When I read the first sentence of the article I thought you were writing about South Carolina State University. Columbia becomes more like Orangeburg every day.

ludwigvonStepladder November 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm

why not build high-end lofts for the unemployed college kids like the olympia mills project?

hhuuhh?? November 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Just think…if they had kept ther State Hospital open, Columbia and the rest of the state woukd not have to worry with so many homeless people.

Nurse Mildred Ratched November 26, 2012 at 8:24 pm

This bickering among you boys is too much for me to bear without comment.

Actually, there is an ongoing bidding war to purchase this property for future development. The ultimate purchaser will maintain the historic architecture and atmosphere of this memorable property.

The organizations involved are:

(1) The Senior Lobotomy Surgeons at the Whamo Neuropsychiatric Institute of Levitation and Competitive Persecution Traumas

(2) A desperate group of RNs (Resident Nymphs) at the Breaking Point Clinic for Those in the Fast Lane for Flipsville, home of the fleece lined straitjacket with thirty-four luminous buckles that glow in the dark and spell out: “I AM NOT NUTS. I AM RAISINS”

I will be the Chief Administrator for the new institution no matter which group prevails. My new motto will be: “All is well if we touch and tell.”

Therefore, boys, if you are whipsawed by praise and blame and paralyzing bouts of indecision and you feel you’re heading for the State Home for the Quaint, seething with inner resentment, plagued by vertiginous neuroses and unruly disoriented inner visions, I look forward to seeing you.

Philip Branton November 27, 2012 at 2:38 am

We wonder what the ground water quality is under this property..? Its a shame they built the new state farmers market over a landfill…this “Bull Street” location would have more “Farmer come to town cache”..!!

Just as the “Promenade Landfill” and “Magnolia Paradise” and “Horizon Hiccup” developments in Charleston… is this “Bull”..!!

Brushjumper November 27, 2012 at 9:53 am

I say wait for another very windy day and call SHERMAN back and burn down those buildings and start over with another nut house. A very big one to house all of the Failed Presidents administration, including the beastly family.

Harrison November 27, 2012 at 9:55 am

So much for basic research.

The property is under contract to Hughes of Greenville. There are 3 parts that must be completed for the purchase to happen..
1. Approval of zoning… (Done) 2. Approval of a Development Agreement with the City of Columbia (pending) and 3. Approval of a Tax Increment District to pay for the infrastructure,(also pending)

Here are the details of this deal. The land is being purchased for $15 million, but not paid all at one time. Hughes only needs to pay for the land as he gets developers over the next 10 years. He has to provide 1 million at closing. Generally he is the master developer, not the owner.

At the same time Hughes has asked for a Tax Increment District to be created to provide infrastructure funding. While those numbers are being debated, he has asked for as much as $32 million, plus funds for a ball field, plus two publicly funded parking lots. A hefty local investment that could exceed $75 million. So much for “private investment”.

Zoning is done, and includes permission for Hughes to demolish all but 3 of the buildings. He would say 5, but he is counting additions to the beautiful Babcock Builing, the centerpiece of the property, as 3 buildings. For fans of historic preservation, or preservation of the states investment over 150 years, this will create a great deal of heartburn. The zoning proposed is an adaptation of form based codes, and gives him lots of power to change use. Watch for a big box store and student housing to be the first projects there.

Come on Fits.. You can do better than this. Basic research !


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