COLUMBIA — People passing by on I-126 now can see some of the first public indications of the $32 million in construction projects in the works at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.
Two buildings on Rivermont Drive are being torn down to make way for more zoo parking as part of the project dubbed Destination Riverbanks.
Anyone who has visited the zoo in the past few weeks has noticed the first major – though not permanent – change. The old ticket and entrance area has been closed and visitors now enter to the right of the entrance road, walking into the zoo near the carousel.
The old entrance will be completely rebuilt, opening to a new zoo sea lion exhibit. Destination Riverbanks also will include a new children’s garden in the botanical garden area.
A third early indication of the changes comes next week, when Tuskers restaurant opens in the center of the zoo just in time for a month-long celebration of Riverbanks’ 40th anniversary. The birthday party will be April 25.
The larger of the Rivermont buildings being torn down has been used mostly as a warehouse in recent years. The front of that building will be left intact, and it will be house zoo administrative offices, according to Riverbanks CEO Satch Krantz. The other building, which used to be Office Furniture USA, will be leveled.
The zoo hopes to have the buildings demolished, the debris cleared away and a temporary gravel parking area available before the spring break crush in April, Krantz said. The parking area will be paved later.
The improvements to the zoo are being paid for primarily by $32 million in public funding approved by Richland and Lexington counties.