Lexington lake resort, conference center draws concern from public, council members

Center, Riverbanks Zoo seek millions in state funding

Posted 5/24/23

A new development and a prominent tourist attraction hope to receive funding from the state.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get 50% of all subscriptions for a limited time. Subscribe today.

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Lexington lake resort, conference center draws concern from public, council members

Center, Riverbanks Zoo seek millions in state funding


A new development and a prominent tourist attraction hope to receive funding from the state.

In unveiling a new $733 million, 93.53-acre destination resort planned for a spot along North Lake Drive just south of the Lake Murray Dam, the Town of Lexington detailed plans for a public-private partnership to bring a Regional Conference Center to the new development. Set to be built in public-private partnership, it would see the town kicking in $30 million for the conference center’s construction.

Now, the town hopes to have $10 million of that defrayed by the state.

The other entity hoping for the state to kick in with its own development efforts is the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, which hopes to receive $3 million for its ongoing plan to expand and improve.

The Lexington development, known as Smallwood Cove, sits off Beekeeper Court near Jake’s Landing and is planned to bring a marina, rental spaces, hotels, restaurants and living spaces ranging from single-family homes to condos.

According to Laurin Barnes, the town’s communications manager, it has already received $6 million from the state to build the center, adding that this amount is more than enough to get the process started.

Barnes said the town will look for other funding sources if the $10 million is not allocated to the town and that a request at the state level for more will be made the following year.

The process to approve Smallwood Cove is ongoing, and council members and residents express concern over this development, with most concerns having to do with traffic and over-development.

At its May 17 meeting, the town's Planning Commission moved items relating to the development to a later date. Barnes shared that it is unclear when the item will be placed on the agenda again, explaining it can’t be brought back to council for approval until the commission recommends it.

Gavin Smith, who was elected to council this month, told the Chronicle he sees the community having three main concerns with Smallwood Cove: traffic, parking and over-development.

Smith said traffic is the top concern and has been an ongoing issue within the town, saying Lexington needs to be conducting traffic studies to understand where the town is at with traffic around the new development and how the development could impact the area. 

“I think the very first thing that we should do is just listen,” Smith said. “Listen to people, get out, talk to various stakeholder groups, constituents, members of the community, business owners, etc, and just make sure that we're listening to their thoughts on the development their thoughts on the issue”

Council Member Ron Williams also shared that he would like an independent traffic study to be done.

Comments made on the Chronicle’s Instagram post about the announcement express worries about traffic and the population density increase the development will cause.

“Lake Murray is going to be as crowded as the beach at this rate,” commented John Long.

Donna Jeffcoat said, “Such a shame! Our jewel has transformed into a big city of congestion and crime”

While he acknowledges and shares these concerns, Smith said there are many people in the community who are excited about the development, especially with the impact it will have on the local economy. Smith told the Chronicle that the tax revenue alone could do worlds for the community and allow the town to make other improvements such as investing in roads.

Resident Rachel Renae shared on Instagram that she is looking forward to the restaurants by the water, an amenity that Smith also expressed excitement about.

Williams expressed a similar outlook.

“Smart growth is the only way to move forward and make this a success rather than a failure," he said, adding that the property will be a great addition to the town if done correctly.

Riverbanks seeks funds for expansion

Matt Perron, public relations manager for Riverbanks, told the Chronicle that the $3 million it hopes to receive would go towards a variety of projects happening at the zoo, including the ongoing Bridge to the Wild project to expand and enhance the zoo.

Included in the sweeping project are an expanded Komodo dragon habitat slated to come online in 2024 (as part of Bridge to the Wilde’s $32 million first phase) and an immersive, walk-through orangutan habitat along with a new multipurpose facility and restaurant with a large deck along the banks of the Saluda River (both planned to be part of the project’s $90 million second phase).

He said the $3 million would also go toward $16 million in deferred maintenance and capital improvements, helping pay for extensive repairs and replacing the zoo’s aging sewer lines, as well as replacing aging HVAC systems, improving Riverbanks' campus security and IT infrastructure, and adding education classrooms that he said are much-needed.

According to Perron, the Zoo receives a majority of its revenue from admissions, attractions, education programs, refreshments and retail, though it relies on public-private partnerships with  the Riverbanks Society, local governments and private individuals and organizations to ensure its long-term success as it seeks to be an economic engine in the state and leader in conservation. 

“Funding from the State of South Carolina would reinforce the strength of this public-private partnership,” Perron told the Chronicle.

If the zoo doesn’t receive the $3 million, Perron said it will continue to find ways to generate earned revenue and work with its partners to find other ways to support its needs.

“Bridge to the Wild is our vision for the future, and we remain dedicated to seeking all funding sources to bring this vision to our community,” he said.

lexington development, smallwood cove, lake murray resort, riverbanks zoo, midlands attraction, columbia traffic


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here