Biggest Improvement in Columbia This Year

Continued Revitalization of Main Street

Runner-up: Growth in the Vista

Just a decade ago, Main Street was basically somewhere people worked in offices — you certainly wouldn’t venture there by night. These days, through the efforts of businesses, artists, nonprofits and government, it’s bustling with restaurants, events and more. Honorable mention: Opening of the Music Farm, Bull Street Baseball Stadium, Soda City Suds Week, Passing the Stone Law

Best Use of Public Funds

Continued Revitalization of Main Street

Runner-up: Riverfront Park

Back in the mid-2000s, when the city dropped several million dollars on the streetscaping of Main Street, people (particularly those who owned businesses on Main) were kind of bent out of shape about it. But those dollars have paid off. Public dollars continue to flow to Main — whether they’re helping support the Nickelodeon Theatre or wooing businesses like Mast General. Honorable mention: Richland Library, Bull Street Baseball Stadium

Biggest Waste of Public Funds

Alan Wilson’s Continued Fight Against Marriage Equality

Runner-up: South Carolina State University

When Attorney General Alan Wilson mounted a spirited defense against lawsuits filed by two different couples — one that wanted to get married, another that wanted their marriage recognized — Wilson said he was just upholding a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2006 outlawing same-sex marriage. But when a federal court said he was wrong, he appealed. And appealed again. And wrote an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court. At some point, it started to seem not only futile but kind of malicious. Ultimately, marriage equality prevailed anyway. Honorable mention: Bull Street Baseball Stadium, Gov. Nikki Haley, Famously Hot New Year’s Eve, Cameron Runyan’s salary, city bus system

Best Local Politician

Gov. Nikki Haley

Runner-up: Mayor Steve Benjamin

If you had told political observers a year ago that Gov. Nikki Haley would have black voters cheering her on at a ceremony taking down the Confederate flag, they would have said you were crazy. But in the aftermath of the June 17 massacre in Charleston, Haley correctly read the mood of the people and moved swiftly to have the divisive symbol removed from the grounds of the State House. The move alienated some of Haley’s core supporters, but it was praised by a much broader swath of the electorate. It also earned the governor glowing press coverage and revived talk of her as a possible vice presidential candidate.

Honorable mention: S.C. Rep. James Smith, City Councilman Moe Baddourah

Best City Council Member

Anyone BUT Cameron Runyan

Runner-up: Mayor Steve Benjamin

City Councilman Cameron Runyan had a near-death experience a few years ago that set him on a new spiritual path. Unfortunately for the voters who elected him, part of Runyan’s spiritual awakening was the “revelation” that LGBT residents don’t deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else. It’s official, folks: Runyan is more conservative than the U.S. Supreme Court. Honorable mention: Moe Baddourah, Tameika Isaac Devine, Leona Plaugh, Brian Newman

Worst City Council Member

Cameron Runyan

Runner-up: Mayor Steve Benjamin

It’s been an interesting year for Cameron Runyan, the once-progressive city councilman who more and more frequently finds himself aligned with conservative viewpoints. In November, he voted against extending benefits to the spouses of city employees in same-sex marriages. Then in April, city human rights consultant Christine Johnson quit, claiming Runyan obstructed her and saying he was preoccupied with her sexual orientation. So, he’s not exactly a beacon of tolerance — and his constituents have noticed.

Best Activist Group or Effort

Pawmetto Lifeline

Runner-up: PETS, Inc.

We have a problem with pet overpopulation here in the Midlands, one that results in the death of a large number of animals that might otherwise be adopted. That’s where Pawmetto Lifeline comes in. With its spay/neuter, vaccination and transportation services, Pawmetto Lifeline works to make sure every healthy dog or cat finds a decent home.Honorable mention: Congaree Riverkeeper, SC Equality

Biggest Local ‘Hero’

Kyle Carpenter

Runner-up: Marcus Lattimore

Kyle Carpenter’s designation as a local hero doesn’t come lightly. In July 2010, the Marine was engaged in combat with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan when he threw himself in front of a grenade to protect a fellow Marine. His injuries were severe, including the loss of his right eye. In June 2014, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. After his medical retirement from the military, he enrolled at the University of South Carolina. Honorable mention: Dawn Staley, Sheriff Leon Lott, Larry Hembree

Biggest Local ‘Zero’

Former Sheriff James Metts

Runner-up: Gov. Nikki Haley

For more than 40 years, Sheriff James Metts was king of Lexington County. Now, after pleading guilty in an alleged scheme to help undocumented immigrants avoid the feds, he’s finally beat out perennial local zero Gov. Nikki Haley in this category. Honorable mention: Cameron Runyan, Mayor Steve Benjamin

Best Charity

Harvest Hope Food Bank

Runner-up: Pawmetto Lifeline

Harvest Hope Food Bank distributed more than 28 million pounds of food last year and fed approximately 38,000 people a week. Those kind of numbers speak for themselves; Harvest Hope is an essential charity in the Midlands, one that assists our struggling citizens and strengthens our community. Honorable mention: PETS, Inc., Oliver Gospel Mission, United Way of the Midlands

Best Green Business or Initiative

Soda City Market

Runner-up: City Roots

Soda City, the weekly Saturday market on Main Street, continues to be wildly popular. Aside from the numerous food trucks, artists, musicians and vendors who appear at the weekly street party, a number of green businesses (like the runner-up in this category, City Roots) often set up shop there, as well. Honorable Mention: Congaree Riverkeeper, Chipotle, Hydroelectric generator at Old Mill Brewpub

Best Local Business Leader

Emile DeFelice - Soda City Market

Runner-up: Mike Tourville - River Rat Brewery

Emile DeFelice is the man behind the Soda City Market, ran twice for state agriculture commissioner and owns Nest on Main Street, which specializes in local artisan products. Remember hearing about that 1,000-person dinner on the Gervais Street bridge? He’s the one putting that together, too. DeFelice is, in short, kind of awesome.

Honorable mention: Debbie McDaniel - Revente, Greg Hilton - Evolution Partners, SOCO

Best Small Business Owner

Ricky Mollohan - Mr. Friendly’s, Solstice, Cellar on Greene

Runner-up: Sean McCrossin - Drip

Ricky Mollohan is a big personality, with the business sense, passion and tasty food to match. Columbia’s lucky to have him.

Honorable mention: Kellan Monroe and Andrew Johnson - Craft and Draft, Debbie McDaniel - Revente, Lauren Truslow - barre3 Columbia, Beach Loveland - Loveland Coffee

Biggest ‘Our Dumb State’ Moment

Charleston Cop Shoots Unarmed Man

Runner-up: Southern Charm reality show

It seems painfully obvious that former police officer Michael Slager firing eight times at 50-year-old Walter Scott should have never happened. Even Slager’s attorney quit immediately after the video of the incident was made public. C’mon, son. A point worth noting: Nomination-round voting had already ended when the massacre in Charleston happened.

Honorable mention: Allowing guns in bars, Re-electing Nikki Haley, Alan Wilson fighting marriage equality

Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners

Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens

Runner-up: The Vista

From reptiles to birds and everything in between, Riverbanks Zoo is by far Columbia’s biggest tourism draw. Last year, it attracted more than 1 million visitors, and with a $36 million renovation in the works, the zoo is poised to increase its appeal even more. Home to more than 2,000 animals and a 70-acre botanical garden, Riverbanks also sports a 1,000-foot zipline, a ropes course and a climbing wall. Hosts popular annual events such as Boo at the Zoo, Brew at the Zoo and Lights Before Christmas.

Honorable mention: Lake Murray, Riverfront Park

Best Neighborhood

Shandon

Runner-up: Forest Acres

You’re damn right Shandon is the best neighborhood in Columbia. With its excellent schools, shaded sidewalks, historic brick bungalows and easy access to Five Points, downtown, Forest Acres and the Vista, you simply can’t beat it — though many have tried.

Honorable mention: Lake Carolina, Rosewood, Earlewood, Elmwood Park, Melrose Heights

Best New Home Community

Saluda River Club

Runner-up: Lake Carolina

If you’re going to live in a planned community, you should definitely pick the one with miles of walking trails and a clubhouse full of canoes you can take out on the Lower Saluda River. It’s a safe, fun place to live.

Honorable mention: Concord Park

Best Apartment Community

CanalSide Lofts

Runner-up: Granby Crossing

Hip, modern, downtown and right by the river — what more could you possibly ask for than CanalSide?

Honorable mention: Capitol Places, Abberly Village Apartments

Best Retirement Community

Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community

Runner-up: Agape Senior

The kids are grown up, and you’ve finally been able to retire. Time to settle down? No, time to have fun. Still Hopes offers 39 acres of beautifully landscaped, worry-free resort style living just minutes from downtown Columbia.

Honorable mention: Wildwood Downs

Best Off-Campus Student Housing

Olympia & Granby Mills

Runner-up: The Hub

The conversion of the old Olympia and Granby Mills buildings into luxury student apartments was a textbook example of saving a piece of the city’s past and giving it a viable present use. The concept was so popular that developer PMC Property constructed the 612 Whaley complex to look like the existing mill properties.

Honorable mention: The Woodlands

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