2018-08-31 / News

Coble turns debate team experience into life of politics

Part III: Columbia history through the eyes of its mayors

Bob Coble served as mayor of Columbia from 1990 to 2010. Bob Coble served as mayor of Columbia from 1990 to 2010. Bob Coble’s term as mayor, from 1990-2010 was the longest in Columbia history.

Through his two decades as mayor of Columbia, Coble oversaw a number of projects. The impact of many is still being felt by the city today.

Coble’s passion for politics began during his time as a student at Dreher High School. He was a member of the debate team. One of his debate partners was Francenia Heizer, who would later serve on city council beginning in 1986. She would become the first woman elected as Mayor Pro Tempore in 1992.

Coble’s first opportunity to get into politics came as a member of Richland County Council. Among the issues facing the county at the time were infrastructure, law enforcement, and education. While those issues were also important to Coble, providing services to the rural areas of the county was equally as important to him.

“Even garbage service was something private services provided then,” Coble said. “Working with the sheriff and getting him and the local government working together was important. Roads and infrastructure have always been an issue.”

Coble worked with county members like Dick Harpootlian, Candy Waites, James Barber III, and John Camp to accomplish goals such as funding education. At the time, Richland County Council’s responsibility was to set the millage rate for Richland County School Districts One and Two.

The council also extended garbage and sewage services to the rural areas, which was a relatively new concept at the time.

Richland County Council went to single member districts in 1988, and for two years Coble did not hold a political seat. In 1990, Coble beat out Patton Adams to be the new mayor of Columbia.

The issues he faced in the city were similar to those in the county: city/county cooperation and services. However, there were a few issues that were different. Mayor Kirkman Finlay Jr. began Columbia on the track of revitalization by moving the railroad tracks from the current Vista location. Adams continued that vision with a remodeling of present day Finlay Park. Coble continued those efforts with further development in the Vista.

One of the main components of the Vista is the Convention Center on Lincoln Street. It was an idea that began with Finlay, but concerns over how Columbia could afford it arose. Other issues centered around location and whether the City of Columbia could partner with Richland and Lexington County Councils to make it happen. Coble felt the time was right to pursue the project, and with the help of Richland and Lexington County Councils, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center became a reality in 2004.

The State of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina, and Richland School District One were also instrumental in the convention center.

Coble also began streetscaping projects along Gervais and Main Street.

Through all the projects, including the construction of the Colonial Life Arena in 2002, Coble and the city council had to work with a strict budget. Coble said other revenue sources helped with fund- ing projects.

TIFs, or tax increment financing, was the method of choice to develop the Vista. The point of a TIF is to allow the government to invest in projects by allowing them to capture future aniticipated increase in tax revenues generated by the project. With the revenues generated by the TIF, the city was able to fund various projects. Coble said the Vista has had a multi-million dollar impact in terms of benefits to the taxpayers.

TIF funds went to purchase the property for both the convention center and the Colonial Life Arena. Funds from the Hospitality Tax and Accommodations Tax were used to construct the convention center.

While working with a small budget was challenging, Coble said there were ways to balance the budget and still achieve what Columbia needed.

“ You have to work closely and be smart,” Coble said. “It’s always challenging. But if you don’t advance the ball down the field, you’re going to be left behind.”

Coble knew early on if he wanted to be a good mayor he needed to seek the advice of those who held the position before him. While Coble and Adams have spoken on occasion since the 1990 campaign, it was Coble’s relationship with Finlay that meant the most to him.

The morning following his election, Coble reached out to Finlay. His personal relationship with Finlay became a working relationship when Finlay became chair of the Columbia Housing Cooperation.

The working relationship Coble had with Finlay was short-lived, as Finlay passed away June 27, 1993. A year later, Sidney Park was renamed Finlay Park in the former mayor’s honor.

“He was a tremendous mayor,” Coble said. “I thought renaming Sidney Park to Finlay Park was very important. It was certainly well received and is something I was very proud to do.”

See Part IV in next week’s edition.

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