Exclusive: USC President Outlines Construction Projects, Research Opportunities

Richard Breen

Monday, December 9th, 2019

It appears that over the next few years, one of the biggest real estate developers in Columbia is going to be the University of South Carolina.

USC President Robert Caslen outlined millions of dollars in upcoming construction spending – as well as ideas how the school can bring in millions in research dollars – in a keynote speech at the school’s recent Economic Outlook Conference.

Caslen, who succeeded Dr. Harris Pastides earlier this year, described expansions, relocations and renovations that touch academics, athletics and student housing. A retired general and former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Caslen also described opportunities for USC to partner with the Department of Defense and government agencies on research.

USC plans to relocate its medical school from Garners Ferry Road to the BullStreet District development as part of a $280 million medical campus.

“We want to do the groundbreaking in 2022,” Caslen said.

Several housing facilities on the south end of campus are scheduled to be replaced as part of the $240 million Campus Village project. The first stage includes four residential buildings which will accommodate 1,800 students at the corner of Sumter and Whaley streets.

The athletic department has also unveiled plans for $22.5 million in Williams-Brice Stadium improvements. They primarily involve adding more club-style seating and amenities and are expected to be ready in time for the 2020 season.

Caslen said the university still needs legislative approval to finance the stadium project.

Meanwhile, the city of Columbia is discussing expansion of the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, which would be accompanied by private hotel development. Caslen sees an opportunity for the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management to partner in the operation of one of those hotels.

“What a win-win it would be,” he said.

Caslen also mentioned that USC wants to become eligible for acceptance into the Association of American Universities. The invitation-only organization consists of 63 American and two Canadian members that are considered to be top research universities.

“We need to increase our federal research grants by $50 million a year, and I think we can do that,” he said.

As to where those federal research dollars would come from, Caslen has plenty of ideas. For starters, he wants USC to pursue research partnerships with the Department of Defense into battery improvements. He also mentioned potential partnerships with the U.S. Army Cyber Command, which is slated to move to Fort Gordon, outside Augusta, in 2020.

“This is something we’re going to develop as well,” Caslen said.

There’s also a proposal for a $30 million S.C. National Guard facility at USC Aiken that will deal with cyber issues, he said. Added together, Caslen envisions a “cyber corridor” for research partnerships running from Fort Gordon to Columbia.

“I think all of that’s possible,” he said.

Doug Woodward, director of the research division at USC’s Darla Moore School of Business, agreed.

“Other universities do this and they do it well,” Woodward said.

An economics professor at the school, Woodward also presented at the conference. He pointed out that while business spending has fallen recently, defense spending is on the rise.

“The money is there and we should be getting a good share of that,” he said.