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Construction Ramps Up at New Farmers Market Near Columbia

Fri January 01, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

After several years of planning and a controversy over where it should be located, the new South Carolina State Farmers Market is heading into its last months of construction before a scheduled April 17, 2010 grand opening.

The 174-acre site, located in Lexington County just to the southwest of Columbia, is currently a hive of construction activity as workers erect several buildings that will be part of the new, state-of-the-art farmers market.

The project is being developed through a partnership between the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA), Lexington County and a private development called 321 Associates. One of the partners in 321 Associates is Jim Anderson, the president of Structioneers Inc., which serves as the construction manager for the facility.

The SCDA is paying $22.5 million toward the project, with the rest of the funding coming from the county and private concerns. The total cost for the market could approach $70 million, according to David Tompkins, the manager of the state’s three farmer’s markets.

When the project was first announced in 2005, plans called for the new farmers market to be located in nearby Richland County. Work had begun on the project when a dispute arose that forced the state to relocate the project across the Congaree River in Lexington County.

Construction at the new site began in August 2008. It is located off U.S. Highway 321 near Dixiana and only about 1.5 miles from both I-26 and I-77. Visitors to the market will be able to get there via the interchange at I-26 and U.S. 321, as well as another interchange at I-26 and U.S. 21/U.S. 176.

The current farmers market is about 10 miles away near downtown Columbia, just across from Williams-Brice Stadium, the football arena for the University of South Carolina (USC) Gamecocks. Once the market moves to its new location, the old property will be given to USC.

Tompkins said that the land on which the new farmers market is being built was raw and undeveloped prior to construction.

“It is a flat, low area that was heavily wooded with pine trees,” Tompkins said. “Extensive clearing had to be done, a major storm water drainage system had to be put in and a retention pond was built.”

Bob Hammond Construction Inc. in Moncks Corner cleared the land for the project, Tompkins added.

The SCDA will operate the farmers market within two blocks of land at the site that encompass around 50 acres, Tompkins said. Private development will take up the other 120 acres.

“We, at the SCDA, will house our administrative offices for the market activities, as well as our farmers sheds and maintenance operations, within one block of land,” he explained. “We will also have trucker sheds and a produce shed that can be up-fitted with coolers. In addition, the SCDA will have its food safety laboratories and consumer service labs onsite, but that facility will be separate from where our farmer sheds are located. We also are building conference facilities that relate to the SCDA and all of these facilities will be available for public use.”

“The lab building is now under construction and will take up 25,000 square feet, the administrative building another 2,200 square feet and the conference center, which just began construction, another 10,000 square feet,” he said.

“Each of the farmers and truckers sheds are about 360 feet long by 85 feet wide,” Tompkins said, “and have space for 124 shopping stalls. They are designed so that area farmers can use the sheds as a place to park their pickup or flatbed trucks and sell direct to the public.”

“Another 15,000-square-foot building is under construction that acts as a large produce warehouse. So far, the space has been leased to three farms from which to sell their wares,” Tompkins said.

“On the private development side, facilities are being built to house more of a retail produce operation,” he added. “Here, produce retailers and wholesalers will bring in their goods for sale. In another part of the private block of land, produce distributors – those with warehouse operations – have purchased their own land within the development and are building their own warehouses. These are large commercial, full-line produce companies that will operate regardless of the season.”

Columbia-based Arnold Construction is building the laboratory facility, while the conference center is being erected by FBi Construction Inc. in Florence.

Structioneers is responsible for the building of the administrative facility, as well as the produce and farmer sheds. In addition, the firm is doing the infrastructure work. That includes the water and sewer lines, curb and gutter work and a 10-acre retention pond. Company President Jim Anderson said that almost all of that work has been completed.

Tompkins said that the SCDA would like to have everything completed by the April target date, to coincide with the South Carolina Spring Festival of Flowers event at the farmers market, but the agency is aware that the variables in construction will come into play.

“I would like to hold to that date, but obviously in construction, things don’t always go as planned,” he admitted. “For instance, October is usually our driest month of the year and it has turned out that it has been our wettest, by a five-fold amount. We have had something like 10 to 12 inches of rain this month. I know our conference facilities will not quite be ready and our maintenance shed will be finished later than that, but most everything else should be ready by the grand opening. I can tell you that the Festival of Flowers will be held at the site even if there are still a few things left to finish.”

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