(Graphic by Stantec) (Photos by Tyler Fedor)
A key Columbia commission has approved a $21.5 million design for renovations of the longstanding Finlay Park.
Renovations for the park were proposed by former Mayor Steven Benjamin in 2019 but were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 14-acre park is now a hub for the homeless who live there.
The design, which was approved last Thursday, is about “50 to 60 percent” finished, according to Todd Martin, the parks planner and landscape architect for the city.
The design includes a renovation of the iconic park fountain, a security station with access to cameras placed around the park and an amenities shelter where people can rent equipment such as rollerblades. The park also will be patrolled by park rangers from the city’s parks and recreation department.
The design process will be completed in March 2023, and construction will begin two months after, said Henry Simmons, an assistant city manager.
The plan doesn’t need to be approved by City Council.
“We feel comfortable that this park will be safe and be a place that people can come and enjoy the experience,” Simmons said.
Members of the Governor’s Hill community, which overlooks the park, spoke at the Design and Development Review Commission meeting. One man, Jeff Pate, said he wanted to know how the homeless would be kept from living in the park. Tom Hunt, who has lived in Governor’s Hill for 36 years, said people won’t come to a park if the homeless are there.
“If there’s no real commitment to something sustainable, for real, it’s just a bigger problem waiting to happen, just in a nicer place,” Hunt said.
Martin said rangers will patrol the park from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The rangers, emergency call boxes and camera surveillance are all a part of the city’s efforts to ensure the safety of the people in the park and to keep it from returning to its current state, he said.
Both men were satisfied with the designs shown and the responses provided.
The renovated park not only will raise the quality of life for the nearby neighborhoods, Simmons said, but also attract businesses to the immediate area.
“Finlay Park is just a missing piece of the puzzle …,” Simmons said. “Once we get that gap filled with activation and programming, it’s just going to change the dynamics of downtown.”