A museum and a hotel over the Congaree River? Decades later, The Bridge vision lives

The Bridge is back. It’s a wild theory that Temple Ligon won’t let die.

Picture his grand vision:

An opera house and ballet theater. A museum. A five-star hotel. Luxury shopping. Condos. All sitting over the Congaree River – on The Bridge. A great, big bridge.

If you’ve been around town for a few decades, you’ve no doubt heard Ligon, a former Columbia mayoral candidate with a background in architecture and urban planning, stump for The Bridge.

The idea has sat mostly idle for some 30 years, but Ligon is bringing it back.

He is fine-tuning his vision and seeking a prestigious architect to help him plan it. He intends to formally present the revived concept on July 14 at a gathering at his home.

“This thing has to be grand and glorious and outrageously expensive to attract a whole new traffic of visitors,” Ligon said.

His enthusiasm for The Bridge is steadfast, and others agree it’s no less than an interesting idea.

“I’ve been amazed by the creativity of Temple’s idea since the first time I heard it,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “Anyone who knows me knows that I love to challenge convention, so I’d never say this idea couldn’t be very successful. It could.”

Of course, it’s quite possible The Bridge has no better shot now than the first or second or any subsequent time Ligon pitched it.

“I wouldn’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but more power to him,” former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble said. “I mean, while we breathe, we hope in South Carolina.”

Once upon a time, Ligon would have had The Bridge host the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Coble never supported that concept. But now that the convention center is thriving in the Vista, Coble calls The Bridge “a very intriguing idea.”

The fact that some people doubt its feasibility is exactly why The Bridge should be built, Ligon said.

“A lot of good ideas started in the ‘insanity’ category,” he said.

The Bridge could make Columbia a national, if not global, destination, simply for the fact that The Bridge is there, Ligon said.

It would sit between the Gervais Street and Hampton Street bridges, near the confluence of the Broad and Saluda rivers into the Congaree. Two levels of parking would be topped by several floors of luxury hotel rooms, condominiums, stores, restaurants and anything else a developer desires.

Ligon estimates some $100 million in private investment could go into The Bridge. That’s $100 million in taxable property that would come out of thin air, he said.

Those are tax dollars that could be used to pay for high-end, public cultural assets on The Bridge such as an opera house and ballet theater, a museum devoted to S.C.-grown artist Jasper Johns and a hall of fame for South Carolina athletics, Ligon imagines.

“(Ligon) does think out of a bigger box than most people do,” said Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corp., which guides downtown development. And that kind of creative thinking is what the city needs to grow and thrive, he said.

Delk said he’d welcome The Bridge or any other project that would bring more people and activity downtown and to the river.

“Whether it’s that project or not, the city needs to do something really magnificent, something that’s really over the top,” Delk said.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.