Asking the Lord to continue to provide “our daily bread,” the Laurens County community came together Saturday to begin the conversion of the Exchange Building and Fairgrounds into South Carolina’s first county-supported Agriculture & Business Center, a $7.98 Million Capital Projects Sales Tax project.
Inviting everyone to recite The Lord’s Prayer, State Senator Danny Verdin said the iconic prayer is “as poignant a messes to agrarians, agriculturalists, and agribusiness as any prayer that can be offered, imploring the Lord to provide our daily needs, our daily sustenance.”
During the August 12 groundbreaking, speakers continually harkened back to Laurens County’s Agricultural heritage. In a time when “tax increase” are despised words, the farmers and agribusinesses “pushed this project over the finish line” so a single penny paid by everyone - residents and visitors alike - would translate into 16 community enhancement projects.
The grandest vision of all is this 2-phase project to breath new life into the Exchange Building, part of a 1930s fairgrounds, and to construct ag-shows outbuildings, a covered horse arena, and new offices for the Clemson Extension Service and the SC Forestry Commission.
“I see Laurens High FFA members here,” said Annette Bodie, an agriculture teacher and Agriculture Committee member. “This is for you and for 4-Hers all over the state.”
She said that 6 years ago, she shared a vision. “Thank you for supporting this Agriculture Center. Six years ago I went to a church friend of mine and said, ‘I have a vision’ — this is the first county-related ag center in South Carolina. We toured places in Georgia and North Carolina and we have taken bits and pieces from those to make the finest center we can for our community and neighboring communities.”
Speakers at the ground-breaking, in addition to Verdin and Bodie, were Brown Patterson, chairman of the Laurens County Council; Connie Daniels, representing the Laurens County Fair Foundation; Walter Hughes, chairman of the CPST Committee; Bobby Smith, vice-chairman of the CPST Committee; and Andy Howard, Laurens County Parks and Recreation Director. They expressed thanks to the community and to GMK and Thomas and Hutton, the companies responsible for bringing the Agriculture & Business Center vision to life.
After build-out of this phase, Patterson said there are proposals for an even larger events arena “down the hill.” Part of the land acquired for this project adjoins The Ridge recreation center, owned and operated by the City of Laurens.
“This will become the place to be for horse shows, flower shows, and everything in between,” Patterson said.
It will be built by “everyone who will benefit from this project,” Patterson said, and not by just property taxpayers. A one penny additional tax on sales to residents and visitors alike - the more visitors this ag center generates, the more money comes in through the sales tax - funds completion of the Capital Projects Sales Tax projects, sunsetting after 8 years. The tax can be renewed with a new set of projects, and an additional approval by the voters.
Daniels said the Laurens County Fair Association tried for many years to get an ag-center - scaled down from what now is proposed - built but they just didn’t have the wherewithall. Now, that association is revamping into the Laurens County Fair Foundation and is offering its $1.4 Million back to the community in the form of grants to community organizations. She said the Laurens County Agriculture & Business Center is the “stepping stone” to the massive T. Ed Garrison Arena at Clemson University, (1991 and 1997 in Pendleton), recognized as one of the premier multi-purpose livestock facilities in the Southeast.
Farmers put the sales tax “over the finish line,” Smith said.
“History says taxes don’t go over well in this community, especially among farmers who have it hard to start with - you’re trying to earn a profit, that’s not easy to do. This project, I may not say ‘most important’ but from a political standpoint, this is what got the penny sales tax over the finish line,” he said. “This helps young people who want to be farmers stay in our community.”
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