New section of Three Rivers Greenway opening soon

jholleman@thestate.comApril 10, 2013 

The newest section of the Three Rivers Greenway will be opening soon, transforming a beautiful but little-used spot along the river into a grand weekday lunch spot, a fishing pier and a party plaza.

It’ll have as many names as it has uses — including CanalFront, Coble Plaza and EdVenture’s backyard.

The city has been working for more than a decade on the CanalFront section of the Three Rivers Greenway. Funding and legal problems delayed the work several times along the way.

The first phase finished, a portion just outside EdVenture’s back door, has been used by the children’s museum for special events since 2010. Construction on the second phase of the $6 million project began last year, and the last few construction details should be finished soon, according to Jeff Caton, director of city parks and recreation.

What in 2010 was designated as Coble Plaza will occupy the area bounded by EdVenture, the canal, the historic canal power plant, the power plant spillway and the Gervais Street bridge. The plaza features a grassy, amphitheater-like area, sculpted stone retaining walls and stylized metal railings along the canal.

For several months, curious wanderers have been allowed to use the multi-level boardwalk under the Gervais Street bridge and beside the spillway. The spillway overlook provides a spectacular new view of the arched bridge over the Congaree River.

Several anglers have been fishing off the boardwalk late in the evenings in recent weeks, but construction equipment and yellow tape cut off access to the rest of the plaza. The tape came down this week. The city hasn’t announced when the plaza officially will be open, but it’ll be difficult to hold back people once the construction equipment is gone.

Soon after the plaza is open, EdVenture will begin allowing people to enter its lower-level Green Fork Cafe without paying for admission to the museum, said EdVenture CEO Catherine Horne. Diners will be able to take food out on to the plaza to eat.

On the first Friday of each month, EdVenture plans to stay open later and offer musical entertainment on the plaza. On June 1, a major event called Maker Faire will draw people to the museum and plaza to explore do-it-yourself arts, crafts and science projects.

“We’re excited that we’re going to have a second front door,” Horne said.

The easiest access to the plaza will be from the EdVenture/State Museum parking lot or from the small parking area on the south side of the Gervais Street bridge.

What’s not clear yet is how the plaza will connect to the Riverfront Park trail to the north. The trail currently ends at a locked gate where it runs alongside the power plant. For safety reasons, the short section at the working power plant will not routinely be open to the public, said Bryan Stone, chief operating officer of Lockhart Power, which runs the plant.

Caton said the city is examining the possibility of using a tunnel under Hampton Street, which once allowed workers to cross under the wide street into the Central Correctional Institution. The tunnel was closed when the prison was razed to make way for the CanalSide development.

The tunnel connection would mean people walking from the museum parking lot could cross the Esplanade section in CanalSide and descend a couple flights of stairs to get to Riverfront Park. That’s far from ideal for distance runners or bike riders who would like to make the connection.

The other option is building another pedestrian bridge over the canal near EdVenture.

Eventually, the city plans to extend the Three River Greenway from Gervais Street to the current Granby section near Carolina Stadium, just south of Blossom Street. Using sidewalks on either the Gervais Street bridge or the Blossom Street bridge to reach the Cayce-West Columbia Riverwalk, that would create about a six-mile route for cyclists or runners without having to cross a street.

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