Construction equipment took the first swipes at Gonzales Gardens in Columbia on Wednesday, as demolition of the oldest public housing community in South Carolina began.
A number of people who used to live in the apartments watched the first bricks tumble from the A-B building, after more than 1,000 people visited the apartments one last time over the weekend.
“We’ll see these buildings come down, but I see this as a new birth, a new life for this community,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said before the demolition began. “This place served as an incubator for incredibly talented, hardworking men and women who just needed a roof over their heads, someplace safe to raise their children. And those children have gone on to do some incredible things.”
The property will be redeveloped into a mixed-income community, eventually including senior housing, townhomes and apartments. It will be modeled somewhat after Columbia’s Rosewood Hills and Celia Saxon communities, which both replaced former public housing complexes with a mixture of market-rate and publicly supported housing for low- to moderate-income residents.
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The redevelopment could cost between $60 million and $70 million, Columbia Housing Authority director Gilbert Walker said. That money has not yet been secured, and a construction timeline is not yet certain.
But once it begins, “we’re going to do it right,” Walker said. “We plan to make sure that what we put out will be something this community will be proud of.”
Gonzales Gardens has stood for 77 years, first to house officers at Fort Jackson during World War II, and later as home to countless low- and moderate-income families through the Columbia Housing Authority.
Once considered a model for good-quality public housing, the community gained a reputation for crime in its later years.
The last of Gonzales Gardens’ more than 600 residents moved out the complex a year ago.
Demolition is expected to be complete by the end of 2017.