A plan to replace the University of South Carolina Medical School campus on Garners Ferry Road with a $300 million facility at the BullStreet District received approval Tuesday from the S.C. Legislature’s Joint Bond Review Committee.
The project next moves on to the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, and Ed Walton, the university’s CFO and executive vice president for administration, is optimistic it will pass that hurdle on its way to becoming reality.
“That should be it,” Walton told the Columbia Regional Business Report. “It (the medical school) has been tucked away under the trees for years. Forty -one years, it’s been tucked away under the trees. That’s OK for when it was developed, but when it comes out for its new location, right there adjacent to Prisma in downtown Columbia at BullStreet at the biggest development in the city — it’s going to make a difference.”
In March, the university’s board of trustees voted to allocate $4.2 million toward the proposed 16-acre site, which would include a 130,000-square-foot medical building and a separate 162,000-square-foot research building and lab.
The current circa-1930s building on Garners Ferry, leased from the Department of Veterans Affairs until 2030, needs an estimated $75 million in upgrades.
“In my humble opinion, I think one of the most underutilized assets we have in Columbia is the medical school,” Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said last month during an online update of BullStreet development. “We cannot attract the talent that we need in an old, rundown building.”
The proposed medical school is one of two high-profile projects underway at the university.
Construction officially began May 26 on Campus Village, a $210 million, mixed-use student housing and retail complex at the south end of campus. The project, which held a groundbreaking ceremony with development partner Greystar Real Estate Partners, will add 1,800 beds, a dining facility and a transportation hub in space previously occupied by The Cliffs apartment complex, razed last year.
“It’s built to accommodate our students,” said Walton, who credited city of Columbia housing development tax incentives with helping bring student housing closer to the center of campus. “What people sometimes forget is that we almost doubled in size from 2000 until now.”
Charleston-based Greystar will build and maintain the site, while the university will own the buildings, including eight residence halls.
On June 15, the state treasurer’s office assisted the university with the issuance of $1.8 million (par) in higher education revenue bonds to secure financing for the project.
The bonds, issued in Series 2021A and 2021B, accounted for a total production amount of more than $228 million, according to a news release from State Treasurer Curtis Loftis’ office.
“It’s all based one one’s ability to repay. That’s what it all comes down to,” Walton said. “When people in the business look at the University of South Carolina and they say I know that they’re strong enough and I know that industry is strong enough to get us repaid over the next 20 or 30 years, that’s about as nice a statement as you can get.”
The bonds were sold by Barclays at an all-in true interest cost of 2.75%, 89 basis points lower than when the Campus Village deal was approved by the State Fiscal Accountability Authority in October 2019, according to Loftis’ office. Before the bond sale, Moody’s affirmed the university’s credit rating of Aa2 on revenue-backed bonds, while Fitch affirmed its rating of AA.
“I’m most excited that we got the whole thing financed for 2.75%, which is almost unheard of,” Walton said. “Then, I’m most excited about the fact that it’s going to accomplish its mission by housing 1,800 young people who are on the beginnings of changing their lives. Third, I’m most excited about the fact that it’s got some retail opportunities on the ground level which makes it more than just a dormitory.”
Phase One of Campus Village, expected to be completed in fall 2023, will consist of four residential buildings. Phase Two, to be located on the current site of Bates West and Bates House, will feature two suite-style residential buildings, while Phase Three will include apartment-style living on the site of the former Carolina Gardens housing community.
“Campus Village will be nothing short of one of the best living and learning communities in the United States,” Harris Pastides, interim University of South Carolina president, said an article published last month on the university’s website. “This project is about people and about building lifelong friendships.”