Steve Benjamin’s fast start

It may look like the mayor is deeply involved in some problem facing the city, but actually he's "taking orders" from his wife./photo by Brad Warthen

Steve Benjamin wants to get a lot done as Columbia’s new mayor, and his first city council meeting is testimony to that: Right off the bat, he’s moving on getting Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to take over the city’s troubled police department.

That’s real action, and of the sort that the city needs more of.

I dropped by the new mayor’s office yesterday to see how he’s getting along — which was a new experience for me, actually. I never visited Mayor Bob in his office before. (When I was at the paper, I didn’t get out much, and when I did it was usually to the State House, not local gummint offices.) Of course, it was a different office. There was nothing particularly remarkable about this one. It’s bigger than my office at ADCO, but not as well air-conditioned. It’s not as nice as the corner office I had at The State (which had formerly been the publisher’s office). Somewhere in the middle — a Mama Bear office. It had nowhere near the impressive drama of Joe Riley’s office in Charleston. There, the visitor can hardly see The Mayor seated behind his desk and gloriously backlit by a huge cathedral window, letting the visitor know he is in The Presence — which is perfectly appropriate, since I think Mayor Joe is America’s best mayor. Steve had a window behind him, but that was about it.

I mention those details because when I had lunch with ex-Mayor Bob yesterday he referred to an Adam Beam story that Bob felt implied Steve was being grandiose in taking the city manager’s office for himself — but I think Bob was being extra touchy on Steve’s behalf there. I thought Adam’s reference was sort of neutral. In any case, there’s nothing grand about the office.

Anyway, during my visit Steve touched on a number of things he wants to move on, from small to large:

  • He showed me mockups of highway signs that are to go at all the entrances to Columbia, saying “Welcome to Columbia, Home of the 2010 NCAA College Baseball National Champion University of South Carolina Gamecocks.”
  • As for his idea about getting the USC Law School to move into the office space formerly occupied by SCANA, “That’s something that I want so bad that I can taste it.” Ideally, a private 3rd party would buy the building and lease it to the university so that it stays on the tax rolls, but if that doesn’t happen it’s not a deal-breaker. He’s working on the USC trustees one at a time, and is finding some support for the move. There are some who still want to build a new building, but the Main Street idea is far more practical, and would do so much to further the continued revitalization of that corridor.
  • Speaking of which, he wants to get the streetscaping of Main Street finished. He thinks it’s an oversight that that didn’t get into the mix of projects that would be funded by the sales tax increase for transportation that will be on the ballot in November. Beyond that, he has a number of ideas about further enhancing the city center, including — this would be down the line, probably with federal dollars — a restoration of City Hall and a revamp of the space between it and the county courthouse, getting rid of the parking lot and tying the buildings together better.
  • Trolleys. He wants to bring them back at some point, not as part of the overall transportation strategy, but merely as an aid to tourism. With the convention center up and running and busy and the new convention hotel and the Vista still booming and Main Street coming back, he sees much more potential for the trolleys than was there when the used to ride around empty.
  • An industrial park. He sees Columbia as badly needing a place to put large businesses if it manages to recruit them. He sees the city as needing something — probably on the south end of town — like the space that the aforementioned SCANA moved to across the river.
  • Speaking of across the river — he continues to be all about regional cooperation, from the airport to the convention center (which is in need of expansion — we’re losing a lot of conventions for which it is too small, from what I hear). And he doesn’t see that running one way. He wants the city more involved in helping to promote the Lake Murray area and other parts of the Midlands.

He’s restless and ready to get moving. Which is promising.

12 thoughts on “Steve Benjamin’s fast start

  1. Brad

    Bud, I’m sorry — I didn’t ask about the RR tracks. But it stands to reason that if we try to locate industrial prospects out Shop or Bluff Roads, we’re going to need to do something about those tracks, right?

    I’ll ask him another time…

  2. bud

    I don’t know about the trolleys. They might work if properly advertised and the routes simplified. Let’s try putting a couple of trolleys to work circulating between 5-Points and the Vista. Have covered waiting areas and run the things at night. Start out with a cheap rate to ride, perhaps even free at first.

    The old Trolleys were useless. No one ever knew when they ran, where they stopped or how much they cost. Keep it simple it may have a chance, overwise it’s doomed.

  3. Ralph Hightower

    I am glad to see him working with the other local city and county governments.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    Okay, so if he gets rid of still more much-needed parking on Main Street, what is going to replace it? Sorry, Steve, that’s a non-starter until you figure out the whole critical parking shortage thing–everyone else doesn’t have a reserved space behind City Hall!

  5. Libb

    Industrial park in the south and regional cooperation…

    Does that imply he’s willing to join forces w/ Vista Farms(Green Diamond) and build on the floodplain?

  6. bud

    Here’s my trolley plan. Have enough so that waits are less than 15 minutes. Then have just 1 route to start. It would start on Gervais Street @ the corner of Main heading west with a stop in front of the new office building. It would process down Gervais and turn onto Lincoln Street with a stop in front of the Liberty Tap Room. Then stops at the Convention Center and Colonial Life Arena. Then turn left onto Blossom with a stop near the new PE center. Next a stop near Sumter Street. Proceeding down to 5 point with stops at Saluda, turning onto Harden with a stop near Yesterdays. A final 5 points stop would be in the vicinity of the new Chick-fil-a. A final Harden Street stop would be near the corner with Gervais. A couple more stops along Gervais would complete the circuit.

    If this works out an additional route could be added along Main Street heading South where a transfer could be made at the Main/Gervais site. This would turn east onto Gervais then north on either Sumter, Marion or Bull. It would then turn left onto Elmwood and then back down Main. This route should make at least 3 stops on Main and 3 on the Sumter leg.

    Make it too complicated and/or expensive and no one will use it. No need for a blue ribbon panel or expensive consultant to figure this out. It’s really not that hard.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    @bud– I think they did something like that at one time–and it was only ever a simple one dollar fare. I’m not sure what the solution is–I tried to take the trolley when I would go to the Richland County Courthouse–from my house between USC and Five Points–now, I could walk it in under a half hour, but in the heat–once I did the whole tour de Cayce! Other times, it was okay, but just took too long, and was extremely uncomfortable (My bones denounce the buckboard bounce). I think a night-time/lunchtime route would be excellent–I know the National Advocacy Center participants loved it–but it would have to run a lot more frequently at lunch to make it doable for a lunch “hour.”

Comments are closed.