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A mayor's legacy: Kirk Finlay Jr.

In this 1983 photo, Columbia Mayor Kirk Finlay Jr. stands at the site where Sidney Park, now named Finlay Park, was developed.
In this 1983 photo, Columbia Mayor Kirk Finlay Jr. stands at the site where Sidney Park, now named Finlay Park, was developed.

A member by marriage of the influential Hampton family that once owned The State newspaper, Kirk Finlay Jr. was 56 when he died of brain cancer in 1993. He didn't live to see his vision for Columbia realized.

Mayor from 1978 to 1986, Finlay was a wellspring of ideas for transforming the city's blighted downtown and hidden riverfront into a vibrant urban neighborhood.

From his law office in a downtown high-rise, Finlay would gaze out his window to the west and muse about the potential of the roughneck, railroad-scarred, 100-block warehouse district now known as the Congaree Vista.

His vision led to a building boom unprecedented in the city's history.

Job No. 1 was moving the railroad tracks that snarled traffic. The trains disappeared into a cut, leaving the district open for traffic and business.

Job No. 2 was building a tax base to pay for public improvement projects. A line was drawn around the Vista, and an agreement was reached with Richland County that any new property taxes there would be used for public improvements.

In 1980, artists began gravitating to the brick warehouses along Gervais, drawn by low rents and a funky feel. In the mid-90s, Gervais was given a rich, nostalgic feel that is pedestrian-friendly and business-savvy. The State Museum moved near the river, followed by restaurants, shops, galleries, hotels, a convention center, USC's arena and condos.

In the mid-80s, the city began building the 14-acre Sidney Park at Hampton and Laurel streets. It was renamed Finlay Park in 1992. A bronze, life-sized statue of Finlay by artist Maria Kirby-Smith sits on a park bench near the waterfall.

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