Richland County Council members presented more details about the “Richland Renaissance” redevelopment plan at a meeting today, extolling the project’s virtues while vowing to fund it without raising taxes.
The plan would include new administrative offices at the site of Columbia Place Mall, a new courthouse and judicial campus in downtown Columbia and a Lower Richland-centered services hub. It got a boost last week when the council voted 6-5 to purchase undisclosed properties related to the project.
“All we’ve done is approve the concept,” councilman Chip Jackson said. “Some people have interpreted it as we’ve done the whole thing, kit and caboodle. We have not. We have simply approved the concept. The hard work now begins of taking that concept and making it reality, and that’s where the citizen input comes into play.”
A packed council chambers listened to council members' views about the project and heard county administrator Gerald Seals describe it as a “vision” that would improve access to city services and health care for citizens in the southeast and northwest parts of the county.
“Richland County is highly livable, but it is challenged,” said Seals, hired in July 2016 after serving as Greenville County administrator from 1993-1999. He described “dark corners” of the county as being unsafe, and said data had identified 16,000 instances of blight in the county, which he said is also unprepared for coming growth and changing technology.
The Renaissance plan was outlined in recorded minutes from an Oct. 23 county council committee meeting. The committed review two plans presented by Philadelphia-based architects MGA Partners: the addition of a 13-story annex to the existing judicial building at 1701 Main St., or the building of a new judicial center at 2020 Hampton St, current site of the county council chambers.
The center would be built by a developer and leased by the county, according to the minutes. Two potential designs of a new judicial campus were presented: a 200,000-square-foot courthouse with a 110,000-square-foot office building across the street, and a 250,000-square-foot courthouse with a 130,000-square-foot office building.
Cost estimates for the judicial center ranged from $104 million to $144 million.
The minutes also revealed a plan to purchase property at Columbia Place Mall on Two Notch Road and move administrative offices there, leaving the 2020 Hampton St. location for judicial operations.
“I live in Northeast Columbia, and the last thing I want to see happen in my community is for it to become a blighted community,” said Jackson, who represents District 9. “When there are unused, vacant spaces, like Columbia Mall, why not come up with a plan we can develop that will revitalize those spaces and places?”
The Lower Richland hub included in the plan would consist of an aquatic center, a magistrate’s and sheriff’s office, a critical care facility and a library.
The county public information office said a combination of land sales, bond anticipation notes and installment purchase revenue bonds would provide project financing.
“I’m confident we can find the money,” Jackson said. “There is no set plan for how it will be funded. There are multiple layers of ways for how it will be done. That’s our job as a council, to make sure that before anything is committed to, we have a clearly identified funding stream to support that before we go down that road.”
Today’s meeting also outlined plans for The Start Center, a multimodal transportation center, business incubator and tourism hub in the Broad River Road/St. Andrews area, and touched upon a historic trail highlighting county landmarks.
Councilman Paul Livingston, who represents District 4, voted against the land purchase last week and reiterated his concerns that the public’s voice be heard going forward.
“I’m just hoping that we don’t get too far down the road before we get that community input,” Livingston said. “That’s what concerns me.”
Jackson emphasized that the project may undergo several iterations before being finalized and said many more meetings lie ahead.
“The question is, do we have enough funding to do what we need to do?” he said. “If the answer is yes, we move forward. If the answer’s no, we don’t. It’s just that simple. I got one vote, but that’s how I’m going to vote.”