Richland County Council voted Thursday to defer the Richland Renaissance project after questions were raised about a transportation hub near Dutch Square Mall. Council has spent more than $8 million buying properties around the county as part of a Renaissance-related plan to relocate county offices.
Thursday’s meeting was called to approve a $2.9 million purchase of property off Bush River Road before a May 30 deadline. The land was to include the Start Center, a multimodal transportation hub, business incubator and tourism center servicing the Broad River Road/St. Andrews area.
Councilman Paul Livingston said he was not convinced the council had done its due diligence on a number of components of the project and questioned the need to purchase the property for the Start Center.
“I shared my concerns early in the process,” Livingston told the council Thursday. “I don’t believe it’s the best use of taxpayer’s dollars to put that type of facility in that particular location without more research.”
In response, council chair Joyce Dickerson filed a motion to defer the Richland Renaissance, essentially stopping the $144 million project in its tracks.
“If that property is not a part of the Renaissance, then we need to go back and look at all the rest of the Renaissance,” Dickerson said. “We haven’t had input on the courthouse or any of the other pieces. We should kill the Renaissance and start over.”
The motion passed 7-4. Those voting to defer were Dickerson, Bill Malinowski, Greg Pearce, Jim Manning, Norman Jackson, Gwen Kennedy and Seth Rose. Those voting not to defer were Yvonne McBride, Paul Livingston, Calvin “Chip” Jackson and Dalhi Myers.
The Richland Renaissance plan, approved by a 6-5 county council vote in December, included relocating county administrative offices to land purchased at Columbia Place Mall and a new downtown courthouse complex. A hospital and aquatics center in Lower Richland and a countywide historic trail were other elements of the ambitious plan, touted by former county administrator Gerald Seals.
Seals was fired in April by a 6-5 vote after an hours-long closed-door council meeting. The county agreed to pay Seals, hired as interim county administrator in July 2016 and offered the full-time job in December of that year, a settlement of more than $1 million to protect itself from potential lawsuits.
After Seals’ firing, council members held a community forum at the former Havertys furniture store on Colonial Life Boulevard, purchased by the county as part of the Renaissance. Chip Jackson said during that forum that the project was largely Seals’ vision.