Columbia, Richland County Tax Break Puts Developable Land ‘on Sale’

Richard Breen

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

Paul Livingston says that when a business has a lot of inventory, they run a sale.

With that in mind, the Richland County Council chairman said his body and Columbia City Council are offering property tax discounts of up to 50% to developers.

“We have huge deposits of land that have been sitting vacant for a long time,” Livingston said at a July 30 announcement.

The city-county collaboration targets projects of more than $30 million that include public infrastructure such as a parking garage. The developer could receive up to a 50% reduction in property taxes for up to 10 years. Projects eligible for the tax break will be considered by the city and county on a case-by-case basis.

Livingston was joined at the announcement by some members of both councils, including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. They said there’s a pent-up demand for projects such as apartments, hotels and office space.

“It’s coming from local and regional developers,” Livingston said. “They like what we have to offer, it’s just cost prohibitive.”

Elected officials said Richland and Columbia’s property taxes are higher than comparable communities due to the amount of real estate occupied by state government, higher education and the military.

“We’ve got a tremendous number of untaxed properties,” Livingston said.

In addition, there are large parcels in Columbia, such as Capital City Stadium and the former site of Kline Iron & Steel, that have been eyed by developers but remain dormant, providing little property tax revenue.

After the announcement, Carl Blackstone, president and chief executive of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, echoed Livingston that there was ample anecdotal evidence that developers would like to invest in the area.

“A couple of the projects that have been lingering around, this will probably push them over the goal line,” Blackstone said. “This is a good sign to developers that we’re open for business.”

Blackstone added, however, that the tax break is a “Band-Aid” and that comprehensive, statewide tax reform – something that business groups have been requesting for years – is still needed.