What will it take to make the Midlands a tourist magnet?
Perhaps a world-class piece of architecture along the Congaree River at the Olympia quarry with marinas, stores, restaurants and condos.
It could be cruises from Columbia to Charleston along the lakes and rivers leading to the Lowcountry.
How about a corridor promoting African-American heritage that includes a stop at Eartha Kitt's birthplace in Orangeburg County, or one for horse lovers that goes past Camden's new South Carolina Equine Park.
These were some of the results of a 15-month study conducted for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism by Irish consulting firm Tourism Development International and released Wednesday.
PRT is trying to help specific regions of South Carolina identify ways to boost and sustain tourism, which has become a $17.2 billion business statewide.
The department has no plans to fund these projects but wanted to provide a plan based on interviews and studies by the consultant.
"This is a blueprint for changing the dynamics of tourism in the city," said Peter MacNulty, managing director of Tourism Development International.
While many of the suggestions might be pie in the sky, some were more straight-forward - including expanding the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center and developing resorts around Lake Murray.
All the recommendations could be accomplished in a decade if funded, MacNulty said.
Not receiving much mention in Wednesday's presentation were Fort Jackson and USC. The consultants said they were hired to find new tourism opportunities, though MacNulty said he could see how the university might use its archive of newsreel footage to attract visitors.
When asked whether the riverfront idea might compete with the city of Columbia's riverwalk plan, MacNulty said: "New thinking is needed ... to create a 'wow' factor to put the city on the tourism map."
Columbia Mayor Bob Coble said he appreciated any idea "that was out of the box," but he wondered whether quarry owners were ready for development.
South Carolina has paid Tourism Development International $650,800 on a contract worth up to $1.1 million to develop tourism plans in eight regions statewide by next year, PRT officials said.
While Columbia might never rival the coast as a tourism destination, Greenville's changeover in the past decade could serve as an example.
"This an opportunity for you," MacNulty said.
What Tourism Development International consultants said are Columbia's weaknesses and strengths in attracting more visitors:
The Columbia riverfront: Flood the Olympia quarry near the Congaree River to create a marina. Build shops and restaurants with a South Carolina flair along the lake. But the real draw would be a one-of-a-kind building on the riverfront to be designed by the winner of a contest. Think something along the lines of the silver-ribbon Guggenheim Museum on the riverfront in Bilbao, Spain.
Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center: Enlarge the convention center exhibit hall by four times to 100,000 square feet to accommodate bigger gatherings, of 3,000 and more.
Lake Murray: Develop resorts along S.C. 6 between I-20 and I-26 with a marina, hotel, restaurant and a wedding chapel.
Heritage sites: Create a walking tour in Newberry and improve the Lexington County Museum by constructing a visitors center. Also create an African-American heritage trail that would include visits to Hopkins in Lower Richland, Eartha Kitt's and Mary McLeod Bethune's birthplaces and historically black colleges, S.C. State in Orangeburg and Benedict in Columbia.
I-95 Gateway: Develop a center at Lake Marion off I-95 near The Beach Co.'s planned 4,000-acre resort that would include S.C. foods and crafts, and could be a stop for lake cruises.
Santee Cooper Waterway: Better promote fishing and hunting and heritage opportunities along waterways that include Congaree, Santee and Cooper rivers, lakes Marion and Moultrie, and the Tailrace Canal. This also would be where the Columbia-to-Charleston cruises would be promoted.
Sports: Promote an equine corridor from Santee to Camden to Aiken and better coordination to win youth-team and fishing tournaments.
The challenges: Columbia is underperforming as a tourism draw by not taking advantage of what consultant Peter MacNulty called the area's prominent feature - its rivers and lakes.
The area also could lure more visitors who drive by on the busy interstates.
In addition, the region has too many overlapping organizations promoting tourism, preventing coordination on marketing and strategy campaigns.
The potential: Growing interest in healthy lifestyles and the environment plays to the Midlands' strengths - outdoor activities.
Being a state capital already draws many visitors, and the area's interstates bring plenty of could-be tourists past the city.
What could give Columbia the "wow" factor it needs? Use the comment section below to share your ideas