Irmo, SC – 03/18/2021 (Paul Kirby) – For Irmo’s gregarious Mayor Barry Walker, the future of the town has never been brighter. The retired restaurateur is all smiles and has an extremely positive attitude as he looks at the small town and talks about its future.
Recently, Walker invited this reporter to come to Irmo, climb in his wife’s bright red Ford Mustang convertible, something he jokingly says that she bought as a present for herself on her “25th” birthday, and we rode around the town as he pointed out what was happening. It was a nice day for a drive and a tour of the beautiful little town that’s growing.
The throaty growl of the V-8 in the bright red sports car only added to the excitement of the tour as the mayor expertly guided it through the town pointing out everything from the neighborhoods to new businesses. He even showed me a pond he swears has lots of fish in it if he can ever score permission to wet his hook there. “Look at what Irmo is and see the potential for more,” Walker said excitedly!
First let me say, he’s not just excited but also proud. Irmo is growing as new businesses and families move there. Walker says that in the past, there was too much of a focus on the negatives and much of that was simply issues people fabricated in their own minds. Not because they were bad people but because they refused or just couldn’t see all the good happening around them. To him the glass is always half full and filling fast. “It’s all about your attitude and how you look at things,” he said as we rode.
“When I look at Irmo, I don’t see older homes that are all rentals and unkept. Instead, I see the perfect homes for young families to start their lives in. Homes in Irmo that would sell between $100,000 and $200,000 would cost the same family several hundred thousand more in other locations and as much as $500,000 in the northern parts of this country. We have the right homes at the right price and a quality of life that’s improving every day. We are actively marketing Irmo to these young families in other parts of the country so they know what an affordable jewel Irmo really is,” Walker said.
When it comes to quality of life, Irmo’s is definitely on the rise. “We want to add more green spaces and amenities so that active young people and retirees will have plenty to do.,” Walker continued. The Irmo Town Park is beautiful, and in the past, the town has added more playground equipment because of the demand. “If you make good relationships, many of these things cost little or no money to the people. We get grants, we make partners, we have citizens step up; We have to be good at selling Irmo so that large corporations feel it’s a good investment to buy into Irmo’s dreams and lifestyle.”
As a case in point, Walker pointed out the amphitheater that’s been built in the town’s largest park, the one they hold their annual Okra Strut in. “The cost of this was expensive but we got creative. I was able to close a deal with Prisma Health for the naming rights on the theater and now we can have concerts, plays, and other events here. It was a win-win situation for us as a community and for them!”
In another area, Walker pointed out a church that is working with at risk youths. “They offer tutoring after school and other opportunities to keep these kids busy. Now, we are getting on board with this old Richland County recreation area right down the street where we want to see lots of great things happen.” Since that conversation, it’s been announced that these efforts are growing through a partnership with the church, the town, and an innovative idea led by Dr. Akil Ross that has created a Youth Zone to work with at risk young people. Participation in the Youth Zone programs have exploded since it was created.
When Walker spoke of the old recreation area, he was referring to a tennis complex that Richland County once had in the same neighborhood of new Friarsgate. “Because it was rarely used, the county came in and tore up the courts just piling the material to the side. It wasn’t doing anything for anyone. We talked them into turning it over to us and now we have big plans for it.” The park already had water, some restrooms, and a great parking area. Mayor Walker sees all that improving in the future.
Walker said that a group of K-9 enthusiast is working on plans for a dog park and have pledged to raise or provide the money to build it. There’s another group that says they will develop a community garden and the town is looking at adding a skate park. “Some people in the neighborhood see us building something that will draw teens that could create trouble. To me, this park will be a great place for the teens to enjoy themselves, get some exercise, and be outdoors. The way I look at it, the neighbors can deal with a bunch of kids with nothing to do prowling around or they can wave as the kids roll by on the way to the skate park.”
Walker pointed out that Irmo has a great police chief and Police Department. “Our officers patrol these area’s regularly to keep an eye on what’s going on. They definitely keep their fingers on the pulse of any trouble that’s happening.” As if on cue, we rolled by an Irmo PD officer who was cruising through a neighborhood keeping an eye on things. “There’s one of Irmo’s finest right there,” Mayor Walker said as he threw up his hand and waved at the patrol officer stopped at a sign in a neighborhood full of small homes. .
Although Irmo is definitely up and coming, Walker says there is still more to be done. “We’ve annexed areas using the railroad tracks and that’s caused the town to seem broken up and disjointed at times. There are people who are resistant to annexing into the town for various reasons. One of the most common is that they think their property taxes will rise. We actually don’t have a property tax so it wouldn’t cost the homeowner a penny more to come into Irmo and get the added police protection and other benefits we have to offer. Certainly, if they were a resident, they’d be able to vote in municipal elections and could have more say so in what’s happening in their community.”
As our tour ended, Walker said, “Man, I’ve enjoyed showing you Irmo but any day is a great day to see this wonderful town. We’re working together now and together; we can get so much done. I just pray more people will consider this town when they are looking for a place to call home.” Walker went on to extend an open invitation to everyone to visit the town. "Come on down. You don't have to ride with me to visit. Come, enjoy our parks, restaurants, and other amenities. I think you'll be glad that you did!"
PHOTO: Irmo's Mayor Barry Walker enjoying a sunny spring day in Irmo's Town Park.