Richland thinks big with list of new tourist attractions

05/05/2014 10:05 PM

05/06/2014 9:09 AM

Consultants outlined a set of five new tourist attractions Monday for Richland County Council, projects including what would be the largest water park in S.C. and an arena with more basketball courts than anywhere else in the southeastern U.S.

Some members appear eager to forge ahead on the $50 million-plus construction package, though how much the new facilities would require to operate and maintain was not discussed during a 21/2 hour work session.

Neither did the council explore who would run the new parks, which also include two amphitheaters and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The county does not have a parks department, and officials with the Richland County Recreation Commission say they’re struggling with operating expenses after recently expanding their system.

Chairman Norman Jackson said after Monday’s session that it’s time the county built projects in unincorporated areas using the tax on restaurant meals collected for a decade.

“We can do all the projects at the same time,” Jackson insisted. “Why should we take 10 years to do something we can do in two years?”

Councilman Paul Livingston said he’d be judging the projects by the number of jobs they would create – another topic not touched on Monday.

What happens next is not clear. The council begins its budget discussions Thursday.

“I’m pushing all of them,” said Councilman Kelvin Washington, who is promoting a multi-use sports arena on Bluff Road catering to basketball, volleyball, cheerleading and taekwondo tournaments.

The presentation on Washington’s $16.5 million project was capped by a testimonial by high school basketball star A’ja Wilson’s dad, Roscoe, and appearances by two officials with the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism.

“It’s got the opportunity to put money back into restaurants, back into hotels,” said Scott Powers, with the sports council. “I think we should take advantage of this opportunity.”

On the other side of the county, a northeast Richland water park would cost $15 million to $20 million and require regular additions to keep people coming back, said Eric Hansen with consultants Hotel & Leisure Advisors of Cleveland.

He detailed a 16-acre water park at Farrow and Hard Scrabble roads with a lazy river, wave pool, spray pad, raft rides and an uphill water coaster ride, which he described as a combination roller coaster/water slide. “It’s awesome,” he said.

“What we’re proposing is the largest outdoor water park in the state of South Carolina.”

One presenter left before the council got to two of the projects, an amphitheater in northeast Richland County and the pool along Garners Ferry Road. That left Councilman Jim Manning seeking basic information, such as the cost and features of each.

Councilman Greg Pearce said he left the meeting with more questions than answers.

“I did not hear a lot of in-depth questions today,” he said. “The people invested in projects in their own areas, I think, are ready to move along.”

Pearce raised another topic that was not addressed, and that’s whether the county would cut funding for existing programs to pay for construction and recurring costs. The venues that receive the largest shares of the county’s restaurant-tax money are the Columbia Museum of Art, the Historic Columbia Foundation, the EdVenture children’s museum and the Township auditorium.

Councilman Bill Malinowski cut off one presenter Monday, saying he wasn’t interested in pursuing a baseball and softball complex in the Irmo area because it wouldn’t break even.

But Malinowski, apparently, is working on another tourist-related project in his northwest Richland County district. It has been referred to as “Project LM,” a secret proposal that his colleagues say might get added to the mix.

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