Orangeburg County Council heard vastly different characterizations of Yonder Field when critics and proponents spoke out Tuesday about the proposed concert venue.
County Administrator Harold Young summed up the situation: “Orangeburg has an unwinnable task in helping to promote growth as well as sustaining the local character of that area. We will do the best we can to make sure all sides are happy but you cannot please every situation.”
Proponents say the project near Bowman is a positive for development, quality of life and taxes.
The foes, primarily people living in proximity, cite problems such as noise, traffic control, security, litter, undesirable activities such as drugs and sex, and a decrease in property values. They complain there is a lack of public knowledge of the project.
Yonder Field is a Folly Beach-based company that plans to host concerts, shows and festivals complete with multiple temporary stages.
The property is 10 miles from the intersection of Interstate 95 and Highway 176. Construction of the venue has already begun on Log Cabin Road, which is off of Homestead Road.
Yonder Field is expected to open in May 2017. The season would run until October. An estimated 10 to 15 concerts are to be held per year at the 228-acre site.
People attending the concerts are estimated to number from 20,000 to 30,000.
The Yonder Field organizers say the project will have an economic impact of $40-50 million annually, with 300 to 400 seasonal workers in positions such as parking staff, guest services staff, security, stage crews and cleaning staff. A job fair will be held in the spring.
Stacie Darr White, Yonder Field general manager and president, told council that three companies will operate under the umbrella of Yonder Field: Toes in the Grass, the Yonder Field Foundation and the Yonder Field concert venue itself.
Toes in the Grass is the landowner from whom Yonder Field will be leasing land for 10 to 15 concerts per year.
“Yonder Field is an entity that is simply going to be leasing this property from multiple land owners for a specific use,” attorney David Williams said.
For 350 days of the year, the site will not be used for concerts. Of the total 140 acres owned by Toes in the Grass at the site, 70 acres will be leased.
“All you’re going to have on this site is a pavilion about the size of a football field,” said John Darr, executive vice president.
Nine cabins on the property will be available for rent and a barn will be available for weddings, birthdays or other events.
Darr said $50,000 in trees will be planted on the property.
White said the Yonder Field Foundation is a non-profit initiative that will work toward helping the community through events such as teaching children gardening through a community garden, partnering with Gretsch Instruments to provide drum heads and instruments for artists to autograph to give away at concerts and offering classes on mixing music to students.
“Anything that we do within the land is intended to go back into the community,” she said. “The effort is always ‘how do we get the money back into the community?’”
White said trash generated from the concerts would go to Super Sod to use as compost, and two acres of the land would be dedicated as a community garden bed with the help of Green Heart Project to teach children gardening.
“The fact that Orangeburg County has this 1 percent sales tax, everything that we do on that property is going to kick back money into the community directly from us,” she said.
But Yonder Field neighbors see things differently.
Bruce Wiles and daughter Jessica Wiles told council they are concerned with the level of noise.
“We sit back there on our porch in the afternoon and we hear them hammering on them rafters on that building and that’s just with a hammer,” Bruce Wiles said. “So you’re telling me that we’re not going to hear 110 decibels of amplified music?”
Robert Darr said the sound will not be as big of an issue as it seems.
“We paid to have a sound-engineering company give us some feedback on the impact the noise is going to have and the findings were that onstage, if we hit 115 decibels, by the time it reaches the corner of Log Cabin and Homestead Road, you’re looking at 65 decibels,” Darr said. “That’s similar to the sound your air-conditioner makes when it cuts on.”
He said said residents are experiencing noise at similar levels during construction.
“I subjected the neighborhood to 100 decibels, eight hours a day for the last three months,” he said. “The generator that sits behind my office trailer, I measured the sound on it this morning. It’s 101 decibels. No one from the county has come and told me we have to cut the generator off because it’s ruining people’s lives because that’s not how sound works.”
Andy Till, baseball coach at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, said he is concerned with drugs being brought in with this concert venue.
“You pick up a paper, you can find meth, weed, crack,” Till said. “Now when you start holding music festivals, LSD, acid, psychedelics. We’re talking about a whole other class of individual.”
Till said festivals elsewhere started small like Yonder Field. To think it will not grow into something larger, "that’s absurd."
Frank Koches, a 12-year resident of the property said, “We really feel infringed upon.”
Koches purchased his property for the specific purpose of hunting and growing fruit trees.
“Our idea was to have a place we could get away from the city, to bring our kids, let them grow up knowing how to hunt, having a place of their own where they could roam the woods without fear of running into bad people,” he said. “The first thing they do when they get to my property, I take their phones from them and all their friends, put them in the glove box. No phones, no games, no nothing. That’s why we bought this place.”
Robert Darr said they will use a mix of on and off-duty police officers to monitor events, with up to 100 officers being present.
“We’re going to have multiple security companies because they don’t have enough people in one security company,” Darr said.
White said wands will be used to check bags before attendees enter the venue and no re-entry is allowed.
“Much as if you go to a tailgate or a football game anywhere, you don’t search the individual vehicle,” White said. “We are not searching vehicles, we are searching bodies.”
A six-foot temporary fence will be placed inside the property and an eight-foot perimeter fence will be a permanent fixture.
“Yonder Field is paying a fortune on liability insurance for every single event,” John Darr said. “It is far cheaper for us to add security to make sure the incidents don’t occur than it is to let these events happen.”
Darr added that every attendee will be insured.
Others addressing council favor the project.
Jim Roquemore, CEO and chairman of Patten Seed Co., owner of Super Sod, lives a mile away. He said the project will be great.
“I looked at how many people would be coming and eating at the restaurants, staying in the hotels, shopping in the grocery stores,” Roquemore said. “That could help the county and I think that’s important.”
He said there are constant complaints of not having a movie theater or entertainment options in the Orangeburg area, so the concert venue will be a “pleasure to be able to go and hear some nice music locally where I can take grandchildren and children.”
“I really think in a year after some events, everybody will see that this has been a good thing,” he said.
William “Rocky” Roquemore, who helped design the landscape, agreed that the economy would see benefits from Yonder Field.
“You’re going to fill up all the hotels, every restaurant probably within a 30 to 50-mile radius and I’ve got to believe that’s going to be a good thing for the community,” Roquemore said.
Yonder Field plans fit with the existing zoning on the property, so the organizers did not need Orangeburg County Council to approve changes. But the organizers are hoping to have Log Cabin Road closed to traffic.
In a recent Public Works meeting, Young said the county has no funds or taxpayer funds going into the project. Officials from Yonder Field requested no economic development incentives, making the project similar to a private deal such as if a neighbor decided to do something on this scale.
“They have not asked us for a dime, so it’s a commercial venture,” he said.
Young said they have also contacted the appropriate people about information for venues of similar size.
He said the Seventh Day Adventist facility sees 10,000 people every week with one entrance off of Highway 33. “10,000 people back there every Saturday and you don’t even think about it as far as traffic is concerned."
Young said the Department of Transportation will conduct a study of the area to determine the proper traffic procedures.
“Our job is to make sure what happens back there is done correctly and we’re going to do that,” he said. “Myself and council, we’ve gone out of our way to have these public forums to get the citizens the answers."