First major penny tax project to connect USC with river

First major penny tax project to connect USC with river

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - State, county, city and university leaders broke ground Thursday for a project that promises to connect the university and Innovista with the Congaree River.

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Phase One of what's being called the "Innovista Project" is a $13 million project funded by the Richland County Transportation Penny Program. It's the first major infrastructure improvement to come out of the penny sales referendum tax voters approved in 2012.

The work will transform the Greene Street corridor to a two-lane pedestrian-friendly roadway from Assembly Street to Gadsden Street, complete with bike lanes, sidewalks, trees and parking. A centerpiece urban square with a large fountain will be built on the four corners of the Greene/Lincoln intersection near Colonial Life Arena. 

"Foundation Square," as it's being called, will be a raised plaza with a continuous canopy of trees and other amenities.  

Eventually, phases two and three of The "Innovista Project" will extend the pedestrian-friendly Greene Street west over the train tracks via a new bridge to connect with Williams Street, which will be extended from Senate Street to Blossom Street.

All three phases of the project are projected to cost $50 million.

"This is the next step in our city's transformation," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said Thursday during a ceremony to mark the beginning of the project. "This is the first step in getting access to the river."

And that access to the Columbia side of the Congaree River has long been a dream of regional leaders.

A 2007 Massachusetts-based Sasaki Associates plan commissioned by the university outlined Innovista as a "mixed use live/work district to support the renaissance of downtown Columbia." The plan called for linking the Horseshoe to a new "world-class waterfront park" on the Congaree River, enabling the completion of the city's park system along the river.

The start of phase one of the Innovista project this week signaled the development of a riverfront park on the Guignard family property could be closer to becoming reality.

"This is not just a project that's going enhance the University of South Carolina, our city, our county, but it's going to put infrastructure in to have responsible development on out riverfront," Richland County councilman Seth Rose said. "Historically, we've always hear 'why aren't we utilizing our river?' This project is going to do that."

Early renderings for the proposed park reveal a civic amphitheater, an extension of the Three Rivers Greenway, a raised terrace and residential development. The idea of a riverfront park, however, still has several hurdles to cross before becoming reality.

Since inception, the penny program has funded approximately $13 million in road expansion and paving of several small dirt roads and another $19 million on expanding COMET bus routes.

County transportation planners say the penny program will fund dozens of projects that will improve infrastructure. 

"You travel around the country and you see a lot of other communities that have a lot more greenways in lace, a lot more bikeways and sidewalks," said Rob Perry, Richland County's director of transportation. "Hopefully this program, 10 years from now you look back and say hey, we've caught up," and not only have we caught up but we're ahead."

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