SC capital's 'crown jewel' to get long-awaited makeover
Finlay Park, the often-described "crown jewel" of South Carolina's capital, is finally getting a long-awaited makeover.
On Thursday, city and state leaders broke ground on redevelopment of the nearly 18-acre downtown park that'll include a new events stage, playground, public art, more parking and upgraded walkways and security measures.
And that iconic water fountain featured in all the photos? Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said it'll be coming back to life for good, with other enhancements.
"The next time you see this park open to the public, it's going to blow your mind," Rickenmann said of the expected fall 2025 grand opening.
"It's been our crown jewel for a long time, but for a long time it stood empty, and been a sore for us," Rickenmann added. "We're so excited for this revitalization."
Over the years, the park had fallen into disrepair without investment.
But, earlier this year, the city pulled together about $24 million, a price tag that includes city and state dollars and a five-year bond, according to The State newspaper. Rickenmann credited the late Columbia City Councilman Joe Taylor for helping the city "figure out how to finance this thing in a short period" of time.
"I'm glad that relationship with the state and the city of Columbia has encouraged us to be able to do certain allocations to projects in the city of Columbia," said state Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland. "I was more than happy to request money to help with this revitalization project."
Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said she hopes Finlay Park will be the envy of all parks once renovations are complete.
In addition to infrastructure improvements, Wilson said park rangers will be assigned to Finlay Park with an on-site office to engage residents and visitors. The city will also have an on-site hospitality office, facing the Vista.
New park lighting will be installed and cameras placed around the park to enhance security, she said.
"This will not only be a part of quality of life for us here in the city, but a huge economic engine," Rickenmann said.
Long-term, Rickenmann told SC Public Radio the city envisions a so-called "flyover," or overpass similar to New York City's High Line, connecting the park to downtown's Main Street.
Finlay Park is named for the late Mayor Kirkman Finlay, whose son, former state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, spoke Thursday.
Recalling his father's dream for the park to be what Central Park is to New York City, Finlay said it's his hope that the park becomes a central feature for Columbia and not be just a photo of a fountain that hasn't worked in 15 years.
"The key was he (Finlay's father) believed that Columbia could be a truly great city. He really did," Finlay said. "He believed that the city could be a world class city in the South."
"And what I would ask, and I hope," Finlay continued, "is that we will continue to maintain this park and make it better."