COLUMBIA’S Finlay Park is worthy of the much-needed overhaul city officials are planning for it.
Despite being worn and neglected, Finlay is still the city’s showcase park, and there is no reason it shouldn’t be a major attraction for many who visit and frequent downtown.
But the once-gleaming park that once made the Briggs & Stratton list of the nation’s Top 10 Lawns for Family Fun is in need of serious updating and repair. Fortunately, Columbia officials are in the process — although belatedly — of developing a package of improvements aimed at restoring the park’s luster and lure.
Obviously, one of the sticking points will be how much money should be spent and where it should come from. We urged Columbia and other local governments not to enact the 2 percent hospitality tax on prepared foods and have been consistent critics of how they use the money. But there are worse ways the city could use these funds — and it certainly has chosen some of those worse ways — than to return this park to its former glory.
While the 14-acre park’s beauty remains evident, visitors don’t have to strain to see the neglect. So much at the park is practically worn out, including the playground, the fountain, the pond’s liner and the retaining walls. What doesn’t need to be replaced certainly needs to be repaired.
Finlay Park, a welcome 14 acres of pleasurable green space in the city center, was a key element in the late Mayor Kirkman Finlay’s vision to transform the blighted area between Assembly Street and the river. The area, which we know as the Congaree Vista, once was dominated by old warehouses, but it has become a bustling restaurant and entertainment district. Not only was the park expected to aid in the redevelopment in the Vista, but the hope was that it would also draw tourists and spur residential development.
Over the years, the park has been host to many concerts, festivals, public gatherings and family outings. It hasn’t been without its controversies, such as whether to ban large crowds of youths who frequented the parking lot or whether the upscale Governor’s Hill housing development should be built at the top of the park and to what extent the city could or should address the tendency of some homeless people to camp there.
The park was built in the mid-’80s, at Hampton and Laurel streets, and opened as Sidney Park; it was renamed Finlay Park in 1992.
Prior to being reclaimed as a showpiece for downtown, the area was little more than a weed-infested hole in the ground, a huge eyesore behind the Post Office. We’d like that bit of the park’s past to stay that way — far, far in the past. So it’s good to see Columbia moving deliberately to get the park back in shape.
Among the proposals in the first draft design concept for the park are these:
• Installing the “Busted Plug” sculpture and water feature near the Taylor Street park entrance, across the street from the Lincoln Street tunnel.
• Constructing a three-story building that could be used as a restaurant, community center, restrooms and storage.
• Constructing a bridge across the pond to improve connectivity of the park.
• Rebuilding the fountain and waterfall cascades.
With a final proposed design and proposed budget not expected until January or February, it’s too early to say what we think about the details, other than to note the need for city officials to be good stewards of the public’s dollars.
It’s also important for the city to devise a plan that guarantees regular maintenance and management of the refurbished park and the activities there and ensures that it is a safe, friendly place for citizens and visitors. There is no reason Finlay shouldn’t be a sterling park that the city and its citizens can enjoy and be proud of for years to come.