In the age of shopping malls, strip malls and online shopping we still crave the human interaction derived from shopping in an open market. Think about most places where people go to recreate, they are typically filled with other people looking to be where “things are happening.” This urge goes back to our earliest times on the planet.
The city of Rock Hill, S.C., has picked up on that idea and has decided that encouraging sales of local goods and produce benefits just about everyone. So Rock Hill has put its money where it would do the most good in encouraging local producers to keep doing what they do so well. Rock Hill has made an investment of $552,000 in a market square in the heart of the city.
The plan for this development will feature a parking lot in the middle of the site and then on each side there will be covered spaces for vendors. This development will be called the “Old Towne Market.”
Leitner Construction, a local Rock Hill contractor, did the demolition work and assembled the new parking lot with the construction of new curb and gutter, new pavement, new concrete pavers and a sheltered overhang on each building at the site.
The plan for the site includes a completion date before the first week in December or the last week in November — just in time for the city of Rock Hill’s annual Christmasville celebration. Work began on the project during the first week of August 2012.
“The main challenges on this job always come with working with existing buildings,” explained Mack Leitner.
“Often you don’t know what you’re going to run into when that is the case. The new development will include steel overhangs and roof structures that are fiberglass to let the light in.
“We also had mini-excavators on site when we put the storm drainage in and when we did some of the demolition, larger excavators for the latter work. Rogers Grading had the larger equipment on this job; most of the smaller equipment was mine.”
This project is one that the city started thinking about five years ago, just before the recession. After that point a lot of projects were put on hold.
“The idea was to create a permanent space for a downtown farmers’ market and other outdoor market activities,” explained Stephen Turner, Rock Hill’s director economic and urban development department. “This area also could include space for arts and crafts, antiques, flea markets, yard sales and a lot of different things.”
As of this writing there will be a small charge to the vendors, depending upon who is organizing the event, how they are organizing it and what sort of fee structure they’re setting up. From the city’s point of view the primary focus of the project is to create a space where events could take place involving mainly outdoor marketing.
“We started looking at that, there was an old parking lot that we really needed to do something with anyway,” added Turner. “The asphalt was worn out, there was no landscaping to speak of and it was stuck in between two privately-owned buildings. Those buildings were either vacant or under-performing. So the bottom line is that we came up with the idea to create this public market space in the parking lot.”
From there they decided to use it as an opportunity to encourage the redevelopment of these privately owned buildings and to get some tenants and activities and things back into Rock Hill’s downtown. There are now new facades on those buildings at the sides of the market space.
“We’ve taken all the depth on those buildings and made the depth useful by creating new storefronts on the sides. There will be an assortment of smaller tenant spaces, some 1,000 to 1,500 sq. ft. per tenant as well as a new wood-fired pizza restaurant opening at this location later in the year. Also slated to be opened is an inside space called the Old Towne Market Hall. This will be 3,000 sq. ft. for an indoor event space that will be used for our markets. We may place vendors in the indoor space, but it’s a space we plan on keeping simple.”
This area will consist of concrete floors, brick walls and a small catering kitchen. The area will be available for anything from family reunions and parties to musical events, market activities — anything anyone could think of could take place in that space, according to Turner.
“We’re hoping that work will be finished by November 2012. This was intended to be a partnership between the city and two private owners. But due to the recession it was impossible for those owners to find tenants; private development had come to a standstill.
“This is a pretty simple project. But I think the complexity of it was taking the market idea and fitting it with the physical layout of the canopies lining the wall; we’re attaching publicly owned canopies to privately owned buildings. It was a fair amount of work to put together all of the necessary arrangements between public and private parties on this project,” Turner added.
The plan and intention is that this will be a year-round development. Use of the open market will undoubtedly drop off in the winter months. But the space in the Old Towne Market Hall can be used year-round.
“We hope that this will be a center of activity for downtown and create some new reasons for lots of people to come downtown,” added Turner.
“We looked around at other cities that have very successful markets. Among these was Roanoke, Va., which has a tremendous farmers market in its downtown. The ones we studied range from very informal things where people set up tents in a vacant lot to things that are very highly organized and programmed, happening year-round.”
The farmers market in the past has been very irregular and informal, just setting up in parking lots and moving from place to place each year. The city had taken over managing the farmers market for two years. That was part of the strategy; if the city was going to create a space for such a development it would have to have a successful market.
Lear’s Welding, Rock Hill, S.C., is doing the fabricating and installing of the steel supports that will hold the sheet metal canopies at the market. It used a Series 500C International boom truck and a Komatsu TH13 excavator also worked on-site in the central parking area. This equipment is owned by Leitner Construction.
Colton Builders, McConnells, S.C., worked on the Market Hall and pizza shop space. For work in this area it used its own equipment, including a Yanmar 35 hp mini-excavator and a medium-sized Bobcat 773 skid steer.
Lear’s Welding’s biggest challenge has been dealing with the old building on-site.
“It is a challenge trying to match up our structures to the crooked walls and trying to use the old beams that they might have in place inside the wall,” explained Jack Lear, Lear’s Welding owner. “We’re approximately 35 percent complete with this job and have more supports to mount on the other side of the market square. We have all the steel fabricated here at our shop and have about five more truck loads to take up to the site. We are building all the steel supports ourselves and putting it up; we fabricate every bit of this material as well as installing it.”
Lear’s Welding has been in business 18 years and also does a lot of work for Westinghouse in Charlotte, N.C., as well as work for Duke Power and many jobs for different companies in the area. It also works with carbon and aluminum. It helped Leitner Construction with a recent job on the Winthrop University campus in Rock Hill.
“The welding is all done by certified welders. We also did work on the recently completed Velodrome here in Rock Hill, completing the entire set of aluminum handrails at that site. Our firm also works with Jeff Rogers of Carolina Floors.
“As long as the rain holds off I believe we will be able to complete this work on schedule by the end of November. My contract includes having the metal primed; they are going to paint the metal supports themselves.”
The crew at present consists of three workers on the job. Six more workers were planned to start in early October.
“We have had as many as 14 workers on this job at one time,” Lear continued. “We’ll probably have 10 people on the job installing the steel at the height of our work schedule. Work doesn’t happen during the rain because someone could slip or get shocked on the job.
“We are good at what we do. When something goes wrong with the pre-fab structures or materials, we are the ones they call to straighten everything out,” he concluded.
So far the weather has cooperated with the work schedule of the project. The daily rains of summer 2012 in Rock Hill have given way to clear skies for the most part as day-to-day construction tasks are carried out.
In the end, the old ways of trade, the ones that have always worked, will continue to add to downtown Rock Hill’s growing appeal. Nothing beats a place where people can enjoy some time away from the bustle of interstate highways, the nameless strip malls, cookie cutter fast food places and impersonal big box stores. In the case of Rock Hill’s Old Towne Market, as the saying goes, what’s old is new again.