When Will Batson first saw the Parker Annex, he thought he was looking at part of a ghost town.
“The building was very dark and there was no electricity,” said Batson, chief development officer at Diversified Development, which began renovating the building after buying it last October. “A lot of the roof was caved in, and there were homeless living in the facility.”
Five and a half months later, the 9,300-square-foot building on the southeast corner of the former S.C. State Hospital grounds has been transformed into a bright, modern space ready for business as part of The Commons at BullStreet redevelopment project.
Diversified Development will occupy the second floor of the structure at Barnwell and Calhoun streets and lease 4,000 square feet on the lower level to yet-to-be-determined tenants. The building will face a planned grand boulevard along Barnwell Street and is within walking distance of the new $37 million, 8,000-seat Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team.
Parker Annex is the third building to attract tenants as part of the mixed-use redevelopment project that includes plans for some 1.3 million square feet of office space. The Columbia office of the Ogletree Deakins law firm has leased the top floor of the 85,000-square-foot First Base Building, while Vista-based workplace sharing company Soco plans to move into the former asylum’s bakery, a long fly ball down the right field line.
The Parker Annex was built in 1919 to relieve overcrowding of male black patients at the state hospital. Windows, exterior doors, exposed-beam ceilings and a 10-foot brick wall that served as part of the campus’ original perimeter have been preserved. The new touches include a paved parking lot, interior modular glass walls and a landscaped courtyard complete with a bocce court.
“In the early 1900s, mental health was not where it is today,” Batson said. “We took a building that has a lot of stigma about it, and we’re trying to make a fun place to work. To take a building that had an isolation ward and to bring it full circle 100 years later is pretty cool.”
Diversified Development partnered with Studio 2LR Architects and Hood Construction on the project and received input from the Historic Columbia Foundation. Batson credited engineers Davis & Floyd Inc. and paving contractor C.R. Jackson Inc. with keeping the renovations on track despite last October’s floods.
“That entire campus is really unique in Columbia and in the region for the story that it tells about mental health in Columbia, but also it’s a great snapshot of our architectural history,” said Robin Waites, executive director of Historic Columbia. “Retaining those places that enable you to tell a unique story makes places like the BullStreet campus special and will set it apart from totally new developments where you don’t have that sense of place.”
Sprucing up South Carolina is something of a family tradition for Batson, a native of Greenwood and graduate of The Citadel. One of his grandfathers was the late U.S. Congressman William Jennings Bryan Dorn, while the other, Dr. Wade Batson, taught botany at the University of South Carolina for 30 years and wrote 12 books on the subject before his death last April at age 102.
Will Batson has lived in Columbia for 15 years and is proud that Diversified Development is the first Columbia-based commercial real estate brokerage and development group to buy property in the BullStreet complex.
“I sat in the baseball stadium the other night at a chamber of commerce event, and through the trees, I could see the roof (of the Parker Annex),” Batson said. “I’m going to get excited about waking up and going to work in that building.”
Reach staff writer Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7543.