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'A gut punch': Bull Street developer is moving forward after Babcock Building fire

The developer believes they'll be able to work to restore the building and continue with the luxury apartment plans for the structure.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The master developer for The Bull Street District in downtown Columbia spoke at a luncheon Monday afternoon and briefly talked about moving forward from the Babcock Building fire.

It's been a little more than a week since a major part of the Babcock Building in The Bull Street District caught on fire.

It was a building that was built back in 1857 and was the former state mental institution that housed almost 400 patients.

RELATED: Bull Street: Taking A Closer Look At The Babcock Building

Around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, Columbia firefighters got a call of heavy smoke coming from the building. When they arrived, they found the structure engulfed in flames.  

Fire officials estimate damage is likely in the millions of dollars. The fire burned the historic building's roof and caused several structural collapses inside.

RELATED: Historic Babcock Building in downtown Columbia destroyed by fire

Robert Hughes with Hughes Development, the master developer for The Bull Street District, said at the Columbia Rotary Club Meeting Monday afternoon he initially couldn't believe the fire happened.

"Definitely a gut punch," Hughes said. "It was something that I really thought at some point during that morning when that happened that I'm going to wake up, this isn't real."

RELATED: Owners respond to fire at Bull Street's Babcock Building

Hughes said his mindset is in life it's not about what happens, but how you respond.

"We've been working very closely with the development firm who bought the building from us in January," explained Hughes. "They've been working very closely with the state historic preservation office, Historic Columbia, HUD, all the different agencies, and we are optimistic ... and they have been working very closely with them that the building will still be restored and we can still start in the near future."

RELATED: New owner takes over Babcock Building at BullStreet

Credit: Clachan Properties
Renderings show design plans for apartments at the Babcock Building in Columbia's BullStreet District.

RELATED: Apartments planned in iconic Bull Street building

The plan for the historic building is to turn it into luxury apartments.

Hughes also thanked both the Columbia Fire Department and Fort Jackson for helping to limit the spread of the fire to other parts of the structure.

The master developer believes they'll be able to continue to move forward.

"This project has obviously had its challenges from the very beginning and we've had our setbacks, including last Saturday being a setback. But we've committed to this for the reasons of making a massive impact in changing and being able to create more value than we capture. For us, it's about growing the pie and we're sticking with it."

Hughes also talked about the agreement for the Bull Street District to be the new home for the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia. He believes the facilities will be a "complete game changer" for the medical school and the district as well.

RELATED: USC Medical School to Move to Bull Street

It's still not known if the fire was accidental or an intentional act. Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. 

Agents from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the Columbia Fire Marshal's office, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are part of the investigation into the fire's cause.