Fresh faces, and one familiar one, promise generational change for Forest Acres’ future
FOREST ACRES, S.C. (WIS) - Newly-elected leaders in the City of Forest Acres are promising generational change.
Half of the council turned over in this week’s election, and for the first time in two decades, the city will have a new mayor.
Thomas Andrews, a current councilman, will take the reins as mayor after Frank Brunson’s retirement. He ran unopposed.
Local business owner Stephen Oliver and commercial real estate attorney Ryan Newton will fill the city’s two open council seats.
Each of the three men expressed similar priorities.
They plan to focus on public safety, small business growth, and development, with no project bigger than the redevelopment of the Richland Mall.
The fresh faces and familiar ones who will be leading Forest Acres into the future say that it is important that its elected leaders reflect the city’s shifting demographics.
Many young families are now moving there, they say.
Andrews said Brunson “Wanted to make sure everyone had the ability to weigh in” during his tenure, and he hopes to build on that legacy.
“Making sure that everyone, that we really take, especially these new members, and we’re not just looking to train them up on the issues before the city, we’re looking to see what their passions and interests are and how they think we can also make the city better,” he said.
Andrews said “the bread and butter” of why many people are attracted to Forest Acres is its police and sanitation department, which he promises this group of leaders will continue to support.
The city approved a $2,000 raise for all uniformed police officers in March.
Oliver and Newton will each serve four-year terms.
Oliver, who co-owns Jack Oliver’s Pool, Spa & Patio, said there is value in having small business owner representation on the city council, something that has not been there for some time.
“I really want to do more to attract more, local, family-owned small businesses to Forest Acres,” he said.
Oliver suggested doing that through some grants, possibly through utilizing hospitality tax funds more.
Those grants could help offset some costs for small businesses, including rent or up-fitting buildings.
“Opening a business is a financial struggle,” Oliver said. “I can attest to that, my brother can attest to that. And we did it with sweat equity and credit card debt and I don’t want people to have to do that. We need to help them get off the ground so they can be just as successful as the other local businesses in Forest Acres.”
Newton wants to see Forest Acres have more conversations with the city of Columbia and other local governments.
“To build community, continue to be a safe place to live, collaboration, both with other Midlands folks and with our residents, to try to continue to make Forest Acres a sought-after place to live,” he said.
The city’s relationship with these places is valuable, and local governments should not be “siloed” in their decision-making, Newton said.
He also wants Forest Acres to nurture its relationship with Fort Jackson.
The trio is laser-focused on the multi-million redevelopment of the Richland Mall, which is the largest economic investment in the city in more than 30 years.
“The big thing we have on the horizon is the Richland Mall development,” Andrews said. “It’s really a once-in-a-generation project for our city. And just making sure that we work with the developer to make sure it’s right and that it reflects the needs for them, but also for the city.”
Newton said his experience as a commercial real estate attorney will be beneficial as the project progresses.
“I’ve worked on projects similar to that, and so I have the sort of background to speak the language that probably no other councilman does in dealing with that, but also have the residents in mind as a resident to make sure that it’s done in a way that benefits the citizens, the visitors, and the developer.”
In addition to the Richland Mall, Andrews also highlighted the Gills Creek Memorial Park development.
The park, which will be located behind Forest Lake Fabrics on Forest Lake Place Drive, will include a splash pad, performance venue, and memorial to fallen police officers.
It is expected to be completed this fall.
Oliver and Newton defeated incumbent John Barnes, who had been serving on the council since 2019.
The newly-elected leaders will be sworn in this July.
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