Plans to revitalize Finlay Park in the final stages, construction expected to begin this spring

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Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 10:37 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Plans to revitalize what was once considered the “crown jewel” of Columbia, Finlay Park, are in the final stages.

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

The plans include renovating the 18-acre park’s iconic spiral fountain, which has been broken for several years, a new events stage, strolling gardens, a food truck zone and public art.

Assistant city manager Henry Simons said the city hopes to break ground on the project at some point this spring after the design work is finalized. Once construction begins, it is expected to take 15-18 months, which could mean a new-look Finlay Park at some point in 2024.

“When you talk about the vibrancy that we’re experiencing on Main Street and the growth that we’re experiencing on Bull Street, Finlay Park – we have to fill that gap with activity and connectivity to the rest of the city,” Simons said. “So that is really the missing piece that we haven’t had in such a long time.”

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

The original price tag was about $18 million, but Simons said the rising cost of construction materials has raised that estimate.

The city already identified $8.5 million from a variety of accounts to fund a portion of the project, and the state is putting forth a $1 million in its latest budget as well.

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

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

According to city officials, this could bring taxpayers money over the long-term because as opposed to 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 not used this process before.

“We’re getting a project that everybody’s been talking about for a very long time moving forward and completed, but also doesn’t handicap us from a debt standpoint,” he said. “It really allows us to have the flexibility to continue to grow other projects.”

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

“We’ve designed the park to give ourselves some flexibility to add to it,” he said. “So it’s not just going to be what we’ve laid out. It gives us an opportunity to grow, to either activate or fill with people living there, which is what you want in a downtown setting.”

The city could explore adding housing or a hotel nearby in the future, Rickenmann said.

Evans Bunch remembers Finlay Park at its best and said he used to enjoy going to concerts there.

“Enjoyed some Saturday evenings out there, it was a real pleasant opportunity to get out and to kind of enjoy our community and the folks in our community,” he said. “And I’d like to see that come back.”

When asked how the city plans to keep the park vibrant and now allow it to fall into disrepair it has now, Rickenmann said, “We’re going to activate the park, we’re going to have ownership there.”

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

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

“As we build parks, we’re building them knowing that we have to spend X amount of money each year to maintain and keep it up,” he said. “We’re planning the O&M part of it as much as we’re planning the capital side of it. And that’s the difference is we’re planning ahead knowing after the first year, we’re going to have to start putting in probably roughly 10 percent of what we spend so $2 million a year to keep upkeep, everything up there. And we haven’t planned that way in the past, and we’re doing it now.”

As Columbia leadership considers these upgrades, they are also working to provide permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness at the park.

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

Among the ideas being discussed is a temporary shelter system to not only provide housing but also access to wraparound services that include mental health clinicians.

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