Columbia City Council scheduled to take up Convention Center project, lobbying at meeting

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 7:49 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 2, 2021 at 7:50 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The statehouse dome can be seen from Lincoln Street, and it casts a long financial shadow.

In June, the general assembly passed a budget which included $9 million for the Columbia Convention Center renovation project, $10 million short of the city’s goal.

Meanwhile, the Greenville Cultural & Arts Center received $19 million.

On Tuesday, the city council will review the contracts of its state and federal lobbyists. Rep. Kirkman Finlay (R-Richland) vocally criticized the city’s lobbying efforts on the project.

Additionally, it will be hearing an update on the project from Mayor Steve Benjamin.

On Monday, he echoed his thoughts on a phone interview with WIS.

“We’ve got to able to prioritize and that requires good data, good facts, and people who are willing to talk about it. None of that has happened with the City of Columbia recently,” he said.

Finlay is on the House Ways and Means committee and questioned whether there was a breakdown in communication between city leadership, its lobbyists, and the lawmakers in the statehouse.

“I’m not going to give somebody money because they’re a Republican or a Democrat. I’m going to support somebody’s project because it’s a good project,  and it’s going to improve our community, it’s efficient and effective,” he said.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin defeated Finlay in the 2010 mayoral election and said he has not spoken with him since.

However, he said the city reached out to the entire legislative delegation on the project and argued Finlay undermined it.

“Whether or not we change our strategy, I’m not sure we have to change our legislative strategy as much as we maybe need to change our legislators,” he said.

He went on to state:

“If someone has just decided to make up their mind that they’re not going to support the people of Columbia, it’s very difficult to change that idea,” he said.

Benjamin said he supported the city’s lobbyists. At-large City Councilman Howard Duvall echoed that support and suggested adding an additional lobbyist with Republican ties to strengthen the team.

Richland County Delegation members Rep. Seth Rose (D-Richland) and Rep. Beth Bernstein (D-Richland) both said lobbying was not an issue, and lawmakers are ultimately responsible for making the projects happen.

“We should have had our delegation, with the business community, with maybe the lobbying efforts be a little bit more vocal, and more insistent,” Bernstein said.

Rose argued lawmakers should be able to act independently.

“I don’t need a lobbyist to come to me to provide the information. I need to do my own homework to say this is a worthwhile project,” he said.

The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Busby Street Community Center.

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