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Riverbanks Zoo asks Columbia and Lexington communities to float bond for next phase

Hospitality and Tourism
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Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens turns to Midlands counties to support phase two plans to enhance the zoo. (Image/Provided)Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is looking ahead to phase two of a plan that its leaders say will bring bring an additional 500 jobs to the community and raise the organization’s annual economic impact on the Midlands to more than $175 million.

Riverbanks said in an announcement Sept. 7 that it will ask Richland and Lexington counties to support a bond to make it happen.

The organization said it will move forward with a request for a 20-year general obligation bond to be issued by the Richland-Lexington Riverbanks Park District and spread across the two counties based on assessed property value — resulting in an approximate $44.8 million investment by Richland County and $35.2 million by Lexington County. The adjustment would not impact property owners until 2025, the news release said, and the estimated maximum cost of $7.20 per $100,000 of assessed property value would occur in 2026. The impact will then decrease each year until the bond expires.

Earlier this year some of the phase one plans were revealed with the opening of an aquarium and aquatics center.

Related article: Riverbanks Zoo announces latest expansion plans

Related article: New aquarium and conservation center at Riverbanks Zoo opens its doors

Phase two would see further development along the Saluda River.

“Imagine visiting a South Carolina nature preserve that guides guests along the banks of the Saluda River to discover black bears, bald eagles and red wolves; soaking in extraordinary birds-eye views of the river and Columbia skyline from a skyway gondola unlike any other in the Southeast; dining at a one-of-a-kind restaurant with sweeping river views; and exploring a first-of-its-kind hillside habitat for primates,” the announcement said. “Visitors to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden will enjoy these unparalleled experiences as part of a transformational expansion along the Lower Saluda River.”

Zoo officials say Riverbanks’ vision for the future, Bridge to the Wild, will elevate the Zoo’s nationally recognized stature.

“Our zoo has been a central element to our collaborative efforts to enhance livability and positive economic growth throughout the Midlands,” James Bennett, chair of the Midlands Business Leadership Group, said in the news release. “By focusing upon our river systems, trails and attractions as a lifestyle, we can highlight the diverse demographics of our local citizens and create a truly unique destination for visitors outside of the Midlands. The much-needed expansion of our Zoo is a quality of life and economic and development growth essential for the Midlands and our citizens.”

Riverbanks attracts more than 1 million visitors each year, the release stated.

Zoo officials predict the next phase as planned could mean another 500 jobs for the Midlands. (Image/Provided)“We are deeply appreciative of the support and partnership from Richland and Lexington counties and their residents,” Riverbanks Zoo and Garden President and CEO Tommy Stringfellow said in the release. “Together, we have grown our zoo from a local attraction to a leader in tourism and conservation while providing educational opportunities that provides Midlands’ students with a front-row look at our amazing world.” 

Beginning in 2019, the first phase of Bridge to the Wild brought white rhinos back to Riverbanks after 30 years along with infrastructure improvements and the new Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center. Two additional projects in this phase are underway: a new Komodo dragon breeding facility and a state-of-the-art, riverside education facility. Phase one is fully funded and made possible through Riverbanks’ earned revenue, The Boyd Foundation, Riverbanks Society, the state of South Carolina and private donors and partners, the release said.

 Official requests for consideration of the bond by both counties have been delivered, and each county will now determine the timeline for next steps.

 “This development will keep Riverbanks as one of the top-ranked zoos in the country and a must-see attraction bringing countless tourists to the Midlands,” Chuck Whipple, vice president and director of business development for ECS Limited Southeast, said in the release. “More importantly, it will lead development along the rivers.”

Reach Ross Norton at or 864-642-5229.

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