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York County group aims to revive study of agri-tourism center

The push for a multi-pupose agri-tourism center in York County that foundered several years ago due to the cost is being resurrected by some residents.

Bobby Walker, a medical consultant who lives in the Bethesda community, said he is leading a move to revive work on what he calls “a most worthy endeavor.”

Walker said about 30 people signed up to be involved during a community meeting last week at the Farm Bureau office in York. He said others who were unable to attend have expressed an interest.

Walker said he plans a second organizational meeting in two or three weeks. He said the group plans to form four or five committees that will spend the next year or more studying the issue.

“We really want people that are willing to step up and take take their passion and their expertise and to go work on one of the committees, because we have a fair amount of work to do,” he said.

Betty Rankin of Rock Hill said she was among a group of residents who started the push for an agri-tourism center more than five years ago, after the state hired a consultant to promote the idea.

In 2008, the York County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau held meetings to discuss such a center, and the county hired consultants to determine what it would look like and where it could go.

Locations were identified, Rankin said, but the County Council ultimately failed to move forward on the issue because of the question of funding.

Rankin said the group learned in its initial study that most agri-tourism centers don’t make money for themselves, but that revenue generated for the surrounding area offsets the costs.

Walker said the group has a good base of information to begin with, because a lot of research was done by the initial group. But he said a lot of study is still needed.

“It can’t be just a place to have a county fair or a livestock show or the occasional huge Southeastern equestrian event, which will bring in all kinds of money,” he said.

“It needs to be multi-purpose, where we can have weekly or monthly events to draw in people around the county or outside the county,” Walker said.

Since the last time agri-tourism was on the public’s agenda, some York County Council members have become weary of the idea.

A study committee examining the county’s facility needs recently considered the possibility, said County Council chairman Britt Blackwell. But he said a project like the one envisioned five years earlier couldn’t be included alongside all the county’s other building needs.

“At this time, that’s not a consideration at all,” Blackwell said. He said such a center would be a “great complement” to other attractions as long as it could function without county support.

York farmer Arthur Black, who was unable to attend last week’s meeting, but sent his daughter, Beth White, said he has mixed feelings about the idea.

“I think it’s worth resurrecting,” Black said. “But it’s got to be a tourism facility for all aspects of our community and our economy.”

Black said the site needs a broader base than agriculture events.

“The perception is when you put out agri-tourism, the first thing everybody thinks of is a horse show,” Black said. “There’s not enough support outside the agri-tourism business to support that. It’s going to have to be well orchestrated and get lots of people involved.”

Walker said he expects such a center would need to start small and be phased in, because it likely won’t receive public funds.

“The No. 1 industry in the state of South Carolina is agriculture,” Walker said. “The No. 2 industry is tourism. This is combining the two...It’s huge what this can and will bring to York County.”