Columbia City Council set to approve $1.5 million contract to get Finlay Park renovations underway

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Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 9:39 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Improvements could finally be coming to downtown Columbia’s Finlay Park.

Once considered one of the city’s busiest hubs, the 18-acre park near the Arsenal Hill neighborhood has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

On Tuesday, the Columbia City Council is expected to approve a $1.5 million dollar contract for the pre-construction and design phase of the Finlay Park revitalization project.

Assistant City Manager Henry Simons said the renovations should breathe new life into the capital city.

“There’s a lot of work that has gone into this process so far,” he said. “We already have a good foundation at Finlay Park. We have the space and now we’re recreating, we’re reimaging what the space is going to look like.”

Proposed improvements include a new events stage, new restrooms and shelter, parking modifications on Laurel Street, a recreated pond, improved walking paths and an updated playground. There will also be a renovation of the park’s iconic spiral fountain.

The city is contracting with the architectural firm Stantec on the design phase, which includes construction documents and permitting.

Once the that part of the project is complete, the city hopes to break ground on construction by early 2023, with renovations finished at some point in 2024.

“When we look at the Vista, and the developments over the years in the Vista, we look at what’s happening on Main Street, we look at what’s happening on Bull Street, now it’s time to ensure that Finlay Park has that same activity,” Simons said.

Matt Varner, Vice President of the Arsenal Hill Neighborhood Association, is among those citizens who have been clamoring for improvements to the park.

“It’s a great asset for Columbia, it’s something truly worth investing in,” he said.

Varner is part of a group called Friends of Finlay, which consists of neighborhood community leaders and local residents who have pushed for a rehabilitation of the space.

He is excited about the commitment the city is making on this front with its $1.5 million investment.

“It once was great, and it just has been a slow decline and it’s just kind of been stuck where it’s at and then COVID came along too,” Varner said. “Other cities like Charleston and Greenville have some great downtown parks, and Columbia deserves one too. And it’s had one in the past, and it’s just exciting that that’s finally going to get here.”

The entire process to renovate the park is estimated to cost $18 million.

Simons said the initial plan was to fund the entirety of the project, including construction, through hospitality taxes, which are paid on purchases of food and drinks in the city.

However, because that revenue source took a hit during the pandemic, Simons said this revenue stream will be used primarily for the initial design phase. The pandemic also delayed original plans to get the project off the ground.

RELATED STORY | Columbia leaders: Finlay Park set to get a long awaited facelift

The city is now working to identify multiple funding sources for that additional $16.5 million.

“The hope is that by the time the actual design work is complete, then we’ll be in a better place in terms of the funding sources for the next phase, which is the construction phase,” Simons said.

Simons said he’s most excited about the creativity behind the proposed plans for the park.

“This is something that our citizens have been waiting on, and they deserve,” he said. “We want to ensure that Finlay Park gives our citizens an experience they’ll never forget.”

The city said it went through a rigorous bid process before selecting Stantec to head up design efforts. Stantec will partner with several local subcontractors to complete this work.

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