Phase Two of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden’s Bridge to the Wild Expansion Promises Extraordinary River Development

For Immediate Release: September 7, 2023

Zoo takes next steps to increase economic impact in South Carolina

Columbia, SC — Imagine visiting a South Carolina nature preserve that guides guests along the banks of the Saluda River to discover black bears, bald eagles and red wolves; soaking in extraordinary birds-eye views of the river and Columbia skyline from a skyway gondola unlike any other in the Southeast; dining at a one-of-a-kind restaurant with sweeping river views; and exploring a first-of-its-kind hillside habitat for primates. Visitors to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden will enjoy these unparalleled experiences as part of a transformational expansion along the Lower Saluda River. Riverbanks’ vision for the future, Bridge to the Wild, will elevate the Zoo’s nationally recognized stature and give Richland and Lexington County residents and other visitors to our state the opportunity to encounter animals and landscapes from around the world without ever leaving their backyard.

“Our Zoo has been a central element to our collaborative efforts to enhance livability and positive economic growth throughout the Midlands,” says James Bennett, Chair, Midlands Business Leadership Group. “By focusing upon our river systems, trails and attractions as a lifestyle, we can highlight the diverse demographics of our local citizens and create a truly unique destination for visitors outside of the Midlands. The much-needed expansion of our Zoo is a quality of life and economic and development growth essential for the Midlands and our citizens.”

Past support from Richland and Lexington Counties has helped propel Riverbanks forward, consistently welcoming more than one million annual visitors and fueling the local economy. Bridge to the Wild will bring 500 additional jobs to the community and increase Riverbanks’ economic impact to over $175 million annually in the Midlands.

“We are deeply appreciative of the support and partnership from Richland and Lexington Counties and their residents,” Riverbanks Zoo and Garden President and CEO Tommy Stringfellow says. “Together, we have grown our Zoo from a local attraction to a leader in tourism and conservation while providing educational opportunities that provides Midlands’ students with a front-row look at our amazing world.”

Beginning in 2019, Phase One of Bridge to the Wild brought white rhinos back to Riverbanks after 30 years along with infrastructure improvements and the new Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center. Two additional projects in this phase are underway: an all-new Komodo dragon breeding facility and a state-of-the-art, riverside education facility that will elevate the learning experience for thousands of children. Phase One is fully funded and made possible through Riverbanks’ earned revenue, The Boyd Foundation, Riverbanks Society, the State of South Carolina and private donors and partners.

Riverbanks is moving forward with a request for a twenty-year general obligation bond to be issued by the Richland-Lexington Riverbanks Park District and 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. The impact will then decrease each year until the bond expires.

Unlike many municipal bonds, a Riverbanks bond is a direct economic multiplier across every sector of industry, positively impacting the quality of life for everyone in the Midlands. Official requests for consideration of the bond by both counties have been delivered, and each county will now determine the timeline for next steps.

“This development will keep Riverbanks as one of the top-ranked zoos in the country and a must-see attraction bringing countless tourists to the Midlands,” says Chuck Whipple, VP Director of Business Development, ECS Southeast. “More importantly, it will lead development along the rivers.”

For nearly 50 years, strategic investments in capital projects have been a shining example of what is possible with regional cooperation between governments. Previous support from both counties has allowed Riverbanks to develop award-winning exhibits and impactful conservation programs that attract visitors and contribute to the economy and quality of life in the Midlands and the state of South Carolina. Riverbanks’ status as one of the best zoos in the nation is the direct result of the nearly five decades-long public-private partnership with Richland and Lexington Counties and their citizens, individual donors, and private corporations. 

You can find renderings and video of the Bridge to the Wild projects below.


| Bridge to the Wild Renderings | Bridge to the Wild Video |


- ### -


Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 3,000 magnificent and fascinating animals and one of America’s best public gardens. The Zoo opened on April 25, 1974, and for nearly five decades, has connected individuals, families and school children with the natural world. Riverbanks is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in animal care and welfare, education, recreation, science and wildlife conservation. It is the mission of the Zoo and Garden to create meaningful connections and inspire actions that will have a lasting impact on conservation. For more information, visit