A bright new look is planned for the intersection of Interstate 26 and U.S. Highway 601, but officials say more is needed.
Improving the entrances into Orangeburg requires the joint effort of government and business, Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson said.
"We can do more landscaping and we can do more with the gateway, but without the support of the businesses and without property owners, it doesn't take shape," Robinson said.
Robinson said the improvements are designed to attract some of the approximately 90,000 vehicles that pass by the interchange each day to stop in Orangeburg and enjoy the city's amenities with hopes they will return.
"We are trying to create a boulevard," Robinson said. An example of what Orangeburg County envisions is Dave Lyle Boulevard in Rock Hill.
The effort to improve the corridor from U.S. 601 into Orangeburg is in its infancy, but there are early glimpses of what it could look like.
A mast arm traffic signal has been put in place near the newly upgraded I-26-U.S. 601 interchange. It was funded by the Lower Savannah Council of Governments and the S.C. Department of Transportation with federal funds and an approximately $80,000 county match.
About $400,000 in federal money has been approved to install a second mast arm as well as handicap-compliant sidewalks, paved crosswalks, planted medians and underground wiring at the intersection of St. Matthews Road and Redbank/Citadel roads.
There will be a local match to the tune of about $100,000 to help fund the project.
The entire upgrade project is estimated to be about $1.2 million.
There are plans to place mast arm traffic signals at the Cook Road intersection and, eventually, on down to the city of Orangeburg.
Two gateway monument signs are under construction at the interchange by ACE Landscaping and Development of Hilton Head. The cost will be $328,720.
The monuments will have both the county and city seals.
The monuments will be similar to what is seen when motorists enter Rock Hill and Summerville.
The beautification efforts will eventually extend from Exit 145 all the way into Orangeburg. About $3.5 million has been set aside for the improvements through Orangeburg County’s capital projects sales tax.
As part of its effort to make the entrance to Orangeburg more attractive, Orangeburg County Council has examined the establishment of a gateway enhancement landscaping plan that would focus on the U.S. 601 corridor from Interstate 26.
The plan would cover routine maintenance such as watering the grass, mowing, lighting and litter control.
Robinson said the plan involves creating a distinct area, similar to the concept of a subdivision or homeowners association, where businesses and retailers would be collaboratively responsible for helping to fund the continued maintenance of the corridor.
"We are going to have to figure out a way to fund it," Robinson said. "That is not easy for County Council because that is additional revenue they have to generate or pull from somewhere else."
Robinson said whether the funding mechanism is an additional fee, the creation of a special purpose tax district or the use of accommodations tax funds has yet to be determined. He said the business community in the corridor will have to be engaged in the process.
Ruby Tuesday Manager Tony DeAloia expressed his appreciation for the county's efforts to improve the gateway, but has questions on the proposed gateway enhancement landscaping maintenance plan. Ruby Tuesday is located on Citadel Road off of U.S. 601 and near I-26.
"I would like to know more," he said. "Will it be a special district based off of sales or a flat fee to everybody? Those are the kinds of things I am more interested in."
He’s also interested in hearing how such projects are funded in other areas.
Robinson said in Rock Hill, for example, accommodations taxes are used. In some cases, a property maintenance zone is created where property owners are required to maintain their establishments to certain standards.
"We can potentially do the exact same thing," he said. "We have accommodations funds that can be used for the exact same thing."
The gateway improvement project is a part of The One Orangeburg County Initiative, a grassroots effort to make the county a better place to live, work and play, ultimately attracting new industry and jobs. The initiative is supported by the Orangeburg County Development Commission.
There have been discussions about developing other entrances into the city, including at S.C. 33 and U.S. 301 as funding becomes available.
Development plans are also underway for Exits 97 and 98 off of Interstate 95 in the Santee area. Fairfield Inn and Suites is currently building a hotel in the area.
The U.S. 601 and I-26 interchange has long been a focus for traffic in the Orangeburg area and has seen recent growth.
Tru Hotel by Hilton recently announced it is building a $5.5 million hotel on Citadel Road and Springhill Suites by Mariott is building behind the Cracker Barrel.
Orangeburg's own Maximum Entertainment Group officially kicked off work on a 30,000-square-foot, $3.5 million Maximum Family Entertainment Center in March.
The fun park will be located on 29 acres on Red Bank Road. It’s behind the former Sea Food Academy and Quality Inn and Suites.
The area has also been designated a commercial opportunity zone to provide incentives for commercial businesses to locate there.
The opportunity zone provides a reduction in property taxes over a 10-year period to commercial ventures that invest more than $6 million over a five-year period and create at least 15 new jobs.
The zone includes the U.S. 601 corridor from about State A&M Road to about Hickson Drive past the I-26 interchange.
Tri-County Electric Cooperative has also announced its plans to develop an industrial park off of St. Matthews Road near the interstate.