FORT MILL -- Carowinds Boulevard-area business owners don't want the state's first Interstate 77 exit to be an eyesore anymore.
Discarded fast-food bags and cans line a rusty fence overgrown with brush that separates Papa Pinos restaurant from Exit 90 southbound on I-77. Joe Randazzo, owner of Papa Pinos, said when he travels, he enjoys seeing the nice exits ramps and entrances to states, but he is ashamed of the appearance at that exit.
"This is terrible," he said of the southbound exit on I-77. "It's dirty. It's not nice. I'd like to see it clean, maybe with flowers; something to be proud of."
The restaurant's staff has been lobbying the S.C. Department of Transportation for months to get the area cleaned. But the DOT says there's no money to beautify the exit now.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
The money was there several years ago, but the intricate landscaping design pitched for that gateway to the state fell apart without the commitment of a local government to maintain the improvements.
Area businesses, chambers of commerce and tourism leaders met last week with DOT staff to move forward with removing trash, overgrown brush and dealing with other unsightly areas along the Carowinds Boulevard exit.
This interest was kindled by Robert Pierce from Papa Pinos, who orchestrated conversations with businesses, such as Plaza Fiesta, The Plaza Hotel and Carowinds, and state representatives.
Around 2003, millions of state and federal dollars were earmarked for elaborate enhancements to the exit, including a fountain, to welcome travelers to South Carolina, Deputy State Highway Engineer John Walsh said.
A local government had to match 25 percent of those funds and commit to maintain those improvements long term, Walsh said. Without the York County Council or other area agencies' support, the project fell apart, and the money was used for other projects in the state.
With a new county manager, new council members and available hospitality tax money, the group is hopeful that some county funds could be used on the intersection. No new designs or plans have been proposed.
Bennish Brown, executive director of York County's Visitors and Convention Bureau, said the next step should be talking to state representatives, area mayors and the York County Council.
"Everyone is interested in cleaning up the area more than it is now," Brown said. "The trash and physical appearance is of concern to these businesses because their area is the first impression people get of York County."
Meanwhile, area businessowners were excited to learn that, with special permission, they can cut the high-standing grass and brush off the ramps. A law prevents DOT from mowing more than 30 feet from the road.
Special permission also could allow businessowners to pick up litter on the state and federally-owned property adjacent to some businesses, including Papa Pinos restaurant.
The group could move quickly with these items, then tackle more long-term beautification projects when money becomes available.
Brown asked the business representatives to e-mail him a list of what they would like to see done to the area. The group will prioritize this list when it meets again Tuesday.