Wrought iron fence for a “fair of the future”
Building a ‘fair of the future’
Fairgrounds getting upgrades to match city’s development, officials say
By BERTRAM RANTIN
This year’s fair runs Oct. 10-21, but State Fair manager Gary Goodman said the fair’s impact on the community is not limited to those 12 days.
“We want the fairgrounds to be a part of the city year-round,” Gary Goodman, said, citing the explosion of growth in the area and the resulting increase in traffic. “We recognized that we needed to be right in line with that (growth).”
Goodman said customary improvements at the fair had been spurred in recent years as the fair renegotiated a long-term contract with USC for football parking. That prompted the creation of a long-range plan that not only addressed normal growth but reflected the changing developmental landscape, he said.
The long-range plan was launched in 2009 with the opening of Carolina Park. The $5 million upgrade to the fairgrounds parking lot included 4,105 spaces on nearly 40 acres and as well as improved lighting, more green space and an extensive underground drainage system. About the same time, the fair added new wrought-iron exterior fencing along George Rogers Boulevard.
Since then the fair has expanded its Grandstand entrance and added an aerial security system throughout the grounds. Earlier this year, the landscaping was upgraded at several entrance gates.
Future projects include more exterior fencing, a pedestrian walkway along Bluff Road in conjunction with the S.C. Department of Transportation and Richland County, and new and renovated buildings.
The entire plan is expected to take from eight to 10 more years to complete. The total project cost was not known Monday.
Some changes won’t be as noticeable but will allow the fair to operate more efficiently, Goodman said. For example, he said the fair is upgrading its electrical system this year to support “the fair of the future.” The water system will be upgraded the following year.
The changes, which are not being paid for with taxpayer dollars, are being made as the fair generates revenue. Goodman said the current improvements near the front entrance and along the gates will cost about $300,000 but are necessary to help the fair maintain a fresh image.
“That area is such a visible part of the fair,” he said. Fred Delk, executive of the Columbia Development Corp., said the ongoing improvements to the fairgrounds are providing a needed boost to an area that has gone without revitalization for many years.
“This is so important to bring a better face to that end of town and to start creating redevelopment opportunities,” Delk said. “It creates a gateway for industrial development in that area and has to have a spin off for future development.”
State Fair operations director Tim Wilson said the fair has come a long way since the days of sawdust grounds and above-ground electric lines, but it can’t afford to get complacent.
“We don’t want to be satisfied,” Wilson said. “People that drive through this corridor, they notice. So if you can get it better, then make it better.”