COLUMBIA — South Carolina State Fair patrons and USC tailgaters will notice some changes along the fairgrounds by the time they arrive for the first corn dog or home football kickoff this fall.
But the upgrades – which include a retooled marquee near the fair’s front entrance and new wrought-iron fencing – are just the latest of many in a long-range master plan for ground and facility improvements.
State Fair officials say the improvements are necessary to remain a state-of-the-art attraction and keep pace with the many renovations taking place on neighboring USC properties and throughout downtown Columbia.
This year’s event 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,” 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 addresses normal growth but also reflects 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, landscaping was upgraded at several entrance gates.
‘Fair of the future’
Future projects include more exterior fencing, a pedestrian walkway along Bluff Road 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 funded by tax revenue, are made as the fair generates revenue. 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 years.
“This is so important to bring a better face to that end of town and to start creating redevelopment opportunities,” Delk said.