Temple Ligon still pushing The Bridge

It’s really something when someone has a idea he really believes in, and never, ever gives up.

Remember Temple Ligon’s plan to build a convention center on a bridge across the Congaree? He’ll be talking about The Bridge again tonight, more than 30 years after he first proposed it:

Tomorrow night, Friday, beginning at 6:00 pm at the Columbia Empowerment Center on Lady Street, we’ll have a lecture on The Bridge. What began as a response to the city’s request for proposals in the spring of 1987 is now part of a major real estate development proposal that includes a five-star hotel, a Jasper Johns museum, a performing arts compound inspired by Washington’s Kennedy Center, a suggested home for the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, and other features. Property taxes taken from the private development, mostly condominiums, out of what is now thin air over the Congaree River, can be collected as part of a tax increment bond financing development district to help build the cultural amenities. Low culture, you might say, can be exercised to support high culture. The Koger Center, an awful ballet theater and a terrible opera house – I was on the board of the Palmetto Opera for six years – stays where it is as a perfectly adequate symphony hall with a band shell that works. Still, renovation of the Koger Center is in the budget.Temple Ligon

Back in 1987, while the city was wondering what to do with a homeboy proposal of world’s first triumphal bridge in the modern era, the major hotel developer, Belz Hotels of Memphis, saw Columbia as an opportunity to build a Peabody and parade it’s ducks in the same class as the Peabody in Memphis and the Peabody in Orlando, both high-end properties. Belz committed in writing to Columbia City Council, Richland County Council, Lexington County Council, and West Columbia City Council. Copies of the Belz commitment will be available. Also available will be the blue ribbon committee report from the managing partner of South Carolina’s largest law firm, Nelson Mullins, which essentially said, “Build the Bridge.

In other words, The Bridge was wildly popular and eminently practical and thoroughly doable. It just didn’t have the initial support of the Honorable T. Patton Adams and later the support of the Honorable Robert D. Coble.

Even the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce was firmly on board. The membership was invited to vote their preference, which was reported as 65% for The Bridge, although the chamber director confided in me it was actually 75%.

So we almost had a done deal. As it turned out, we got a satisfactory convention center with good attendance and plans for expansion.

Fine. But who cares?

Now let’s get on with making a city. But who cares?

Everybody cares.

5 thoughts on “Temple Ligon still pushing The Bridge

  1. Norm Ivey

    We’re in Greenville for the Fall for Greenville festival this weekend. Greenville has done extraordinary things with its downtown. Columbia has an amazing river, but has done nothing to exploit it as a draw. Instead they have a fragmented entertainment district (Vista, Main St, Five Points, Bull St (sort of)), none of which offers the variety and vibrancy of what this town has to offer. Greenville is the sort of place people move to. Columbia is the sort of place people move from.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Norm, you describe the differences between the two cities well. But they are physically and socially different places. Greenville’s downtown is a ribbon along Main Street, across the river and up to the ball park. It’s great – but it’s two blocks deep – and then literally nothing. Retail is the same, all clustered south of the city around Haywood and Woodruff. The rest of the Greater Greenville area literally has nothing of interest anywhere.

      Columbia is a city of pockets. There are places of “cultural” interest here and there as you describe. None is really dominant the way retailers generally prefer. But that also means Columbia has more neighborhood centers, a more dispersed “vibrancy.”

      I’m not sure which is better, actually. Columbia certainly lacks in a great many ways. I’m just not sure not having a focused retail/entertainment corridor is one of them. It might actually, for a resident, be a bit of a blessing to have some interesting places nearby for a meal or a drink, etc. across many neighborhoods.

      No doubt that Greenville, like Charleston’s downtown, is a far better place for a hotel stay and an easy walk to an interesting meal. Columbia has more character than people, including myself, seem to realize, however. It’s not all a loss. Opportunity does exist to drive vitality.

      1. Norm Ivey

        I don’t dislike Columbia. Columbia has done well for itself as far as it can. Main Street is amazing compared to what it was when I moved here almost 40 years ago.

        I mentioned the fragmentation as an illustration of the differences. But the festivals are different, too. What are Columbia’s biggest festivals? St Pats in Five Points and New Year’s Eve, both of which tend to attract binge drinkers and unruly behavior, at least at their heights. In contrast, Fall for Greenville is a enormous well-planned and well-run event that includes something for everyone. And even though we stayed until it shut down on Friday night, we never felt any discomfort amongst the crowd.

        Columbia’s greatest shortcoming is that it’s a government town. City, county, state governments are housed here. The university and the base own huge tracts of land. Having all of those institutions in one place decimates the property tax base for the region,limiting opportunities. People move here because this is where their jobs are, not for the climate or culture or entertainment.

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