Finlay Park revitalization plans in final stages, construction expected to begin this spring

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Plans to revitalize what was once considered Columbia’s “crown jewel,” Finlay Park, are in the final stages.

City leaders this week outlined plans to fund the remainder of the $21.5 million project.

Plans include renovating the 18-acre park’s signature spiral fountain, which has been broken for several years, a new events stage, promenade gardens, a food truck area and public art.

Deputy City Manager Henry Simons said the city hopes to launch the project sometime this spring after design work is finalized. Once construction begins, it is expected to take 15-18 months, which could mean a Finlay Park facelift at some point in 2024.

“When you talk about the vibrancy we’re seeing on Main Street and the growth we’re seeing on Bull Street, Finlay Park – we need to fill that void with activity and connectivity to the rest of the city,” Simons said. . “So that’s really the missing piece that we haven’t had in so long.”

Revitalization plans had been underway since 2019 but were put on hold when the pandemic began.

The original price was around $18 million, but Simons said the rising cost of building materials has increased that estimate.

The city has already identified $8.5 million from various accounts to fund part of the project, and the state is also proposing $1 million in its latest budget.

RELATED STORY | Columbia City Council set to approve $1.5 million contract to kick off Finlay Park renovations

The remaining $10 million needed to complete the renovations will come from a 5-year bond the city plans to issue this spring.

City officials say it could bring taxpayers money in the long run, because unlike typical 30-year bonds for projects like these, this short-term bond has a lower interest rate.

Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said the city has never used this process before.

“We get a project that everyone has been talking about for a very long time, which is moving forward and completed, but which is not handicapping us from a debt point of view either,” he said. “It really allows us to have the flexibility to continue developing other projects.”

Rickenmann said he hopes a redeveloped Finlay Park will bring more growth and development to the capital.

“We designed the park to give us some flexibility to add,” he said. “So it will not just be what we have planned. It gives us the opportunity to grow, to be active or to fill up with people who live there, what you want in a downtown.

The city may consider adding housing or a hotel nearby in the future, Rickenmann said.

Evans Bunch remembers Finlay Park best and said he enjoyed going to concerts there.

“I enjoyed some Saturday nights there, it was a really nice opportunity to get out and kind of enjoy our community and the people in our community,” he said. “And I would like that to come back.”

When asked how the city plans to keep the park vibrant and now allow it to decay, Rickenmann said, “We’re going to activate the park, we’re going to own it.”

As part of this effort, the city plans to staff the park with rangers.

Rickenmann said the space is Colombia’s version of New York’s Central Park and said the city is looking to popular parks in cities like San Francisco as models to revitalize it.

“As we build parks, we build them knowing that we have to spend X sums of money every year to maintain and maintain them,” he said. “We plan the O&M part as much as we plan the capital aspect. And that’s the difference is that we plan ahead knowing that after the first year we’re going to have to start investing about 10% of what we spend, so $2 million a year to maintain maintenance, way up there. And we haven’t planned that way in the past, and we do now.

As Columbia leaders consider these improvements, they are also working to provide permanent housing for homeless people in the park.

The mayor’s office estimates that there are 250 homeless people experiencing homelessness in the city.

Among the ideas discussed is a system of temporary shelters to not only provide housing, but also access to comprehensive services that include mental health clinicians.

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