Without a doubt, Columbia is known for setting its fair share of records when it comes to the weather, but this charming Southern city is known for much, much more – making the city’s slogan, “Famously Hot,” all the more fitting. From politics and the economy, to the arts, festivals, sports and everything in between, Columbia has seen and experienced a great deal this year. In the words of Benjamin Disraeli, “Life is not dated merely by years. Events are sometimes the best calendar.” So in no particular order, here are some of those exciting, fun and anxious events that marked 2011 as such a memorable year.
SPORTS: “Wait til next year!” Those words recited so often by so many University of South Carolina sports fans may finally have been uttered for the last time. One of Columbia’s proudest moments came when the USC Gamecock baseball team won its second NCAA College World Series victory in Omaha. This second win, which showcased the team’s incredible, exciting, nail-biting athletic prowess, proved that the first win in 2010 was no fluke. The fun of an afternoon Main Street ticker tape parade to honor the team and its achievements – attended by more than 40,000 spectators on a hot June day – was an added bonus for long-suffering USC fans.
USC Baseball coach Ray Tanner hoists the NCAA championship trophy.
The Gamecock football team also achieved a huge accomplishment. It was named SEC Eastern Division Champs for the first time, and this season fans are dreaming of a repeat performance, in addition to an SEC Championship. But until then …
WEATHER: Okay, weather is usually a boring topic, but not this year, not in Columbia. In 2011, Mother Nature hit our town with just about everything she has to offer: snow, earthquake, excessive heat, flooding and tornadoes.
Columbia received six inches of snow on Jan. 10, and if you have lived in Columbia for at least one winter, you know that even a prediction of a dusting shuts down the public school system. So three straight days of school and business life coming to a halt in a city known for heat, not snow, deserves recognition.
Then, for the second consecutive year, Columbia marked one of the warmest meteorological summers (June through August) on record … no surprise there! But reports from downtown Columbia on Aug. 23 of earthquake activity and floods during September left many citizens shaking their heads. Columbia experienced three flooding events from Sept. 21 to 25. According to NOAA’s website, Columbia has not had that much rain in six consecutive days since 1991. Flooding occurred on Sept. 21 and 23, with the worst on Sept. 25. That third storm also left a path of destruction from tornadoes and wind shear in some parts of the city. Rocky Branch Creek, the sole watershed for USC that runs between Pickens and Assembly streets, floods at 7.2 feet. Gauges on this creek located at Pickens Street and Whaley Street crested at 11.1 feet and 12.4 feet, respectively, after the storm; this flooding was the cause of several cars being submerged on campus.
POLITICS: Politics is never dull, and living in the Capital City subjects Columbians to more political shenanigans than many other S.C. natives. However, two key events made their mark in 2011. First was the swearing-in of the state’s first female governor, Nikki Haley. Second was the election of Columbia’s first African American mayor, Steven Benjamin.
Mayor Steve Benjamin, his wife and daughters shop at Mast General Store.
ECONOMICS: 2011 has been a year of high unemployment rates: more than 10 percent for Richland and almost 9 percent for Lexington counties. There is a sign of hope on the horizon with companies such as Amazon breaking ground in Lexington. The opening of Mast General Store is a giant step towards the revitalization of downtown Main Street, and the announcement of Whole Foods Market opening a store in Columbia in 2012 also gives citizens a sense of pride and hope that better times are yet to come.
Through the generosity of alum Darla Moore, USC broke ground in September on the new Darla Moore School of Business, and the planning of the Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research has lifted off.
EVENTS: Though Columbia hosts many events, such as the S.C. State Fair, Greek Festival, Main Street Latin Festival, St. Pat’s in Five Points, Viva La Vista and more, 2011 marked Columbia’s first time hosting the Miss South Carolina competition. Greenville had hosted the pageant since 1958; Myrtle Beach had dibs in its early years. 2011 marked the pageant’s 75th year and its first year operating under the leadership of The Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization. The pageant is a weeklong event that culminates in the selection of South Carolina’s representative in the Miss America pageant. The event was held at the newly renovated Township Auditorium.
Pawleys Front Porch is one of several local restaurants with a mobile food truck.
FOOD: Columbia has finally arrived gastronomically, as the city now boasts several food trucks. Two Fat to Fly, Bone-In Artisan Barbeque, Pawleys Front Porch (it’s a truck and a restaurant) and Alfresco Mobilista all offer delicious fare daily to patrons from different locations throughout the city. The trucks and their mobile daily setup sites can be followed on Twitter. Once a month the trucks gather in the same location for a day for a Food Truck Food Court
ART: On Sept. 11, 2011, The First Responders Remembrance Memorial was unveiled next to the Columbia Metropolitan Visitors Center at Lincoln and Senate streets. Marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, this moving tribute memorializes 47 first responders from the Midlands who lost their lives in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001. Columbia was able to acquire two beams from the demolished World Trade Center Tower One, which are incorporated into the monument between two 25-foot granite World Trade Center replicas bearing the names of the brave first responders whom the memorial honors.
The First Responders Remebrance Memorial honors emergency personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty.
RENOVATIONS: The newly renovated Township Auditorium and Woodrow Wilson home debuted in 2011, shining examples of the importance of rehabilitating historic property throughout the Midlands. The Nickelodeon, which opened its doors in 1979, is undergoing a much-anticipated facelift, too, with a move to a renovated location on Main Street.
After a physical revitalization to its surrounding street and sidewalk areas, Five Points, a major player in Columbia’s hospitality district, needed extra work on her after dark demeanor. Columbia’s City Council installed thousands of dollars of new surveillance cameras all over the Five Points area, which have already helped to assist police with several arrests. City Council also voted to make permanent the curfew on youth roaming unaccompanied in the vicinity at night.
BIRTHS: There is one spot in Columbia where births of all kinds are regularly celebrated and make the news. Riverbanks Zoo has had a banner year with babies. A koala joey named Owen made his first public appearance in January. Though born in 2010, Owen, like most joeys, did not fully venture out from his mother’s pocket for several months. A baby spectacled owlet poked his head from his egg on May 5, and two toco toucan chicks (say that fast five times) hatched on July 16. The giraffe exhibit became quite crowded with the arrival of two giraffe calves, both born in July, who offered much entertainment to zoo visitors this summer. And though not born at Riverbanks, the zoo acquired an 18-month-old babirusa named Bertello this year, about which zoo staff members are quite excited.
ACCOLADES: Benedict College was ranked No. 15 out of 309 colleges in Washington Monthly’s 2011 ranking of best baccalaureate institutions. Colleges are rated based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research and service.
First Lady Michelle Obama made a visit to Ft. Jackson in January to participate in a briefing discussing the relationship of poor nutrition in childhood and the resultant epidemic of lack of exercise and obesity as an adult, a major platform for her in 2011.
The award-winning EdVenture Children’s Museum features a variety of programs and exhibits.
EdVenture Museum was named one of the ten best children’s museum’s in the nation by Woman’s Day, and in October, it was chosen as a recipient of the 2011 National Medal for Museum Service. This award, given annually, was bestowed upon EdVenture because of the work the museum has done to increase health education programming to encourage families to live healthier lives and to understand the science behind living healthier lifestyles. The award coincides with EdVenture’s new permanent exhibit, “Body Detectives,” which was unveiled in November. This exhibit features labs and hands-on opportunities to unlock the science behind health, disease and the human body. Rumor has it that Michelle Obama will be presenting this award to EdVenture at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Concerts, pedicabs, farmers markets … there is so much more to brag about when it comes to our fair city. It’s amazing to look back and realize how much actually goes on in Columbia within the time frame of one year. Though not a large, metropolitan force, Columbia’s “wow” factor comes from her people and our desire to see our city thrive economically and offer exciting events, yet remain small enough for us to actually treat each other as true neighbors and to raise our children in safe and friendly environments. Lake Murray, Fort Jackson, USC, state government: it all forms a conglomeration of continuous activities that help keep our city vibrant.
Scott Fulmer of Capital Pedicab transports shoppers around downtown Colunbia.
Special thanks to so many Columbians who freely gave their ideas and opinions in creating this article and especially to Kim Jamieson, director of communications for the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism for her time and information; to Cantey Heath, special assistant to the President, The Office of The President at USC; and to Catherine Horne, president/CEO at EdVenture.