On May 25, the Columbia Riverfront Park Facebook page delivered bad news. The Turbine House, a historic building that was part of Columbia’s first water plant at the park, was set for repairs to fix water and termite damage, but the required work was more extensive than anticipated.
To complicate things further, lumber prices are steep and existing funds didn’t quite cover the newfound expenses.
The park and its accompanying historic buildings are a frequent destination for many Columbia residents, with its walking trail alongside the Congaree River. Before the pandemic, the park also hosted popular biergartens put on by the German beer experts at Bierkeller Columbia.
Those events helped raise the already burgeoning brewing operation’s profile in the city when they started in 2018. Now, owner Scott Burgess is lending a helping hand with the park’s unexpected costs, selling commemorative mugs that depict the historic buildings and two accompanying beer tokens that can be used at Bierkeller's newly announced return to Riverfront Park on Sept. 14, pending city of Columbia approval.
“Let’s see if we can’t get them some help,” he told Free Times. “They deserve it. It’s a great spot.”
Burgess’s fundraiser has already raised more than $1,000 to donate to the cause, he said, with mug and tokens packages costing $20 each. Park officials also started a GoFundMe fundraiser that, as of June 3, had almost reached its goal of $1,250.
According to the park’s Facebook page, grant funding was set to ignite a phased repair project focused on windows and doors at the Turbine House, which had been awaiting repairs after the historic flood in 2015.
Burgess said he doesn’t expect any hangups with bringing biergartens back to the river in September — though he did note that First Thursday on Main's recent struggle to get its customary waiver on open container enforcement for beer and wine gives him pause.
When it returns, Burgess plans to make a few updates. Frequent criticisms of the event, which drew crowds of up to 2,000 in the past, were long lines. To combat that, they now plan to have two stations each for beer pouring and glass and beer token distribution.
He noted these changes should help improve peoples’ sense of safety from a public health sense, as well, as they should spread out crowds.
“It’s a very popular thing and we’re trying to do our best to make it happen, get it back on track and be safe,” he said.
Burgess noted that his German-style, roving brewing operation was already established in Columbia’s craft beer scene after its founding in 2016. Yet in the spring of 2018, once he was approached by the city to launch the biergartens, it helped raise more awareness.
It also fits his brewing identity and his hopes for his brewery.
“German biergartens are half urban, but they feel like they’re a world away,” Burgess explained. “That spot in Columbia really feels like a world away. … All of a sudden you’re surrounded by pretty unspoiled river and nature.”