Richland County Council voted Thursday to indefinitely shelve its signature project, a $144 million plan to move county headquarters and redevelop properties across the county.
The Richland Renaissance plan was hatched largely by former administrator Gerald Seals, who was fired in April. Council narrowly approved it in late 2017, without any public hearings or feedback.
Thursday's vote to scrap Richland Renaissance came after support began to unravel for the START center, a proposed business incubator and transit center in the St. Andrews area that was to be just one part of the expansive plan. Council was being asked to approve the $2.9 million purchase of a strip mall on Colonial Life Boulevard, part of the proposed site of the center.
However, Councilman Paul Livingston cast doubts on whether the county had properly assessed whether a new incubator was even needed, and whether that was the right site.
Others raised the concern that the county hadn't consulted other government bodies about whether the proposed site would be a good place for a transit center. That echoes previous concerns about Richland Renaissance: The Richland County Bar has said it wasn't consulted on plans for a new judicial center that were part of the plan.
Backup funding for the project was also beginning to unravel: Richland Renaissance was supposed to be achieved without a tax increase, with costs estimated at $144 million. Former administrator Seals had identified $176 million in unused county properties that could be sold if costs exceeded that cap — however, staff noted at the May 24 meeting, when they looked further at those properties, they realized many of them in fact couldn't be sold. The actual number of saleable properties was more like $50 to $60 million, said one county staffer.
With support crumbling, Council took yet another narrowly divided vote.
What Council actually voted to do, in the words of Chairwoman Joyce Dickerson, who made the motion, was "to defer the Renaissance plan and just kill the whole thing and let's start all over, because if you're going to kill one part you might as well kill the whole thing." The START Center was to be in Dickerson's district.
Those voting to indefinitely defer the plan were Dickerson, Jim Manning, Seth Rose, Greg Pearce, Norman Jackson and Bill Malinowski. Livingston, Yvonne McBride, Calvin Jackson and Dalhi Myers voted against the indefinite deferral. Gwen Kennedy was present but did not vote. Update: According to the Richland County Clerk of Council, Kennedy voted in favor of deferring the Renaissance project, though she did not cast her vote electronically. That puts the vote to defer at 7-4.
Rose and Livingston each told Free Times the vote essentially puts the entire Renaissance plan on hold.
"Yeah, at this point in time we are not going forward — that was my understanding," Rose says. He's long been a critic of the plan, saying it's "been very scary and troublesome to me ever since this was passed in December."
"I believe Council pumping the brakes on Richland Renaissance could save taxpayers tens upon tens of millions of dollars," Rose says.
As for Livingston, he says he still supports many of the ideas of the plan, but thinks it's been poorly executed, and without proper community input.
"I thought Richland Renaissance was trying to do too much at one time," Livingston said during the meeting.
Pearce, meanwhile, says it's "too early to throw in the towel" on Richland Renaissance, noting that the county has already bought several properties at Columbia Place Mall, where it had planned to move county administration. He's generally opposed the plan, but wants to salvage the county's investment.
"We really need to regroup and look at this again," Pearce said.
Various parts of the sprawling plan included demolishing the county administrative building at 2020 Hampton St., building a new courthouse and judicial complex at that location, moving county offices to Columbia Place Mall, and building an aquatics facility, critical care facility and other facilities in Lower Richland.