The Richland and Lexington County councils have approved their support of the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden’s latest expansion.
The votes approved a bond issue to help fund Phase Two of Bridge to the Wild at the zoo, according to a news release. This next phase of Riverbanks’ vision for the future is set to move forward beginning with a year-long design process in the new year.
The 20-year general obligation bond to be issued by the Richland-Lexington Riverbanks Park District is to be spread across the two counties based on assessed property value — resulting in an approximate $44.8 million investment by Richland County and $35.2 million by Lexington County. The adjustment would not impact property owners until 2025, and the estimated maximum cost of $7.20 per $100,000 of assessed property value would occur in 2026.
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The project will boost Riverbanks’ economic impact to over $175 million annually, translating to tangible benefits for our community including job creation, tourism generation and increased educational and recreational opportunities, the release stated.
“The annual economic impact and the quality-of-life that Riverbanks brings to the Midlands has been made possible by five decades of regional cooperation,” Riverbanks President and CEO Tommy Stringfellow said in the release. “We are grateful for this next step and will continue to work with the Councils and other leaders in the community to explore ways to maximize community impact while minimizing cost to the taxpayer. The Zoo will celebrate 50 years in 2024, and we look forward to building a Bridge to the Wild to ensure a brighter future for our community wildlife and wild places.”
Phase Two of Bridge to the Wild is a transformational expansion of the Zoo and Garden featuring a one-of-a-kind primate forest and restaurant along the banks of the Saluda River, a South Carolina nature preserve highlighting some of state’s most charismatic animals, enhanced lion and tiger habitats as well as an aerial tram system with a birds’ eye view of the Saluda and surrounding skyline, the release stated.
Riverbanks already has secured $37 million in private funding for Phase One of Bridge to the Wild, which includes an all-new rhino habitat opened in August 2020, Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center opened in March 2023, a Komodo dragon breeding facility opening in 2024, a brand-new education facility opening in late 2025, and significant investments in the Zoo’s aging infrastructure, according to the release.s