Revitalizing an Old Farmer’s Market into a College Hub

Gamecock Park in Columbia, SC

The University of South Carolina’s new 50-acre “Gamecock Park” is located on an aging site previously serving as the home of South Carolina’s State Farmer’s Market. This new park has become a green oasis and a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization and transformation in a growing sector of the City of Columbia, SC. This important site is located across the street from Williams-Brice Stadium on a heavily traveled business corridor and was acquired by the University in 2010. Since then, the University created a facility that not only fills much needed demand for additional parking for Gamecock fans on game days, but also functions as an important new as an open space. This exciting space consists of a state-of-the-art tailgate facility including game day parking with dedicated tent spaces and cable TV hook-ups, electrical outlets and four permanent restroom buildings. The new park provides highly sought after and much needed game day parking on low impact stabilized turf for just over 2,000 vehicles. The facility also supports year-round opportunities including special events, concerts, food festivals, art festivals, and University gatherings where both green space and high capacity parking are needed.

Garnet Way, the primary central open space, serves as the facility’s main organizing element. This tree-lined, grassy promenade funnels pedestrians into a vehicle free zone, providing them with a safe connection to the stadium. The space also provides a venue for free play, and a stadium parade route for the marching band, cheerleaders, and football team. Celebrated as the “Gamecock Walk”, players walk the Garnet Way surrounded by adoring fans prior to entering the stadium on game day. This exciting new tradition is enjoyed by both players and fans alike. Public open spaces were provided along the street edge accommodate additional game day events, activities, concerts and gatherings. According to Ray Tanner, University of South Carolina Athletics Director, “In Gamecock Park, we have a facility that rivals any place in the country in tailgating. It is an area that pulls together the atmosphere of college football in a first class manner for our fans. Whether it’s Gamecock Walk, tailgating, a pre-game pep rally, concert or children playing in the open fields, Gamecock Park is a representative of the fun and excitement we want our fans to experience at home football games.”

The team’s traffic and transportation planning and parking solutions included roadway improvements to accommodate over 2,000 vehicles entering or leaving the facility over short periods of time. Improvements included complete streets solutions with the provision of tree lined streets with generous walkways to safely accommodate pedestrians, comprehensive way finding with easy to read signage, new turn lanes and lane striping and street lighting. Patrons are directed to pre-assigned parking spaces for vehicles, RV’s and buses. In addition, “tent zones” were created to increase separation of tailgating and improve traffic flow. The highly sought after patron spaces are sold and assigned on an annual basis, generating a significant new source of income for the University.

Iconic monumental columns and low walls with decorative iron fencing aligning the street frontage pull core campus detailing to the site and reinforce the unique qualities of USC’s historic campus “Horseshoe” and sense of place. Generous use of canopy trees placed throughout the park provide relief from the typically hot weather in the fall. In addition, careful consideration was given to selecting tree species that produce just the right shade of “Gamecock Garnet” fall color.

The project utilized low maintenance materials consistent with materials used elsewhere on the University’s campus. There are a relatively small number of paved parking spaces with the larger balance of spaces located in grassed and landscaped zones. Higher traffic areas are accessed through paved parking aisles, and lesser traveled aisles remain grassed. Low Impact Development techniques were used to accommodate storm water runoff such as infiltration trenches and bio-retention cells. This parking facility requires very little maintenance other than periodic mowing and yearly aerating. Wells provide irrigation water, reducing dependence on Municipal water and reducing maintenance costs.

The project features many sustainable practices including “Low Impact Development” (LID) techniques throughout. According to Darren K. Holcombe, P.E., LEED AP, Design Team Project Manager Cox and Dinkins, Inc., “Using LID allowed us to turn an aging impervious site into a destination that no longer takes away from the environment, but now recharges groundwater and improves the environment.” Existing concrete and other existing building materials were crushed for onsite reuse and/or sold for reuse offsite. Existing asphalt pavement was milled and mixed into the soil for added structural support in grassed parking areas. A comprehensive bio-infiltration storm water system was designed to capture and treat the first 1-1/2 inches of rainfall from all storms, (the 95th percentile). Through the reduction of impervious surfaces and construction of the bio-filtration system, post development run-off was reduced over 90%. Additionally, the planting of over 900 varying tree species reduced the urban heat island effect, reduced runoff and provides valuable shade for visitors to enjoy while tailgating. In paved areas, Silva Cells were incorporated to provide a healthier environment for long term root growth. Love grass was also planted in select areas, reducing the need for mowing and other ongoing maintenance.
Reduction of energy and natural resource usage was also a focus of the project. The facility utilizes light reflector shields to reduce light pollution. The lights, along with the restroom buildings’ mechanical systems and the facility’s irrigation system are tied to the University’s energy management system, monitoring and reducing energy and water use. In the restrooms, solar light well units were used, introducing ample natural light.

One of the primary challenges facing planners and designers was to provide much needed parking for game day use in a way that enhanced the aesthetic and visual qualities of an aging site. The design team and University staff were determined to accomplish these goals but do so in a way that created a valuable open space that was predominantly green and park like. The addition of this large new “Park” and green space in the heart of an area that was previously covered in impervious surfaces is having a positive impact on the area. The addition of pervious stabilized turf parking surfaces underground storm drainage collection and filtration basins will make a significant impact on water quality in the region.

Another significant programming opportunity was to include unstructured open space within the vast area of game day parking. This was accomplished through the inclusion of the large central greensward which functions as a promenade linking all areas of the park to Williams Brice Stadium. The entire complex was organized around this central open space providing a relaxed unstructured core to the facility. This component functions as a key social gathering space during game day as well as a multi-purpose space for other University events.

The response to Gamecock Park has been very positive. Surrounding neighbors have reinvested in their properties, and construction activity in the area is on the increase. The University continues to invest in the neighborhood with construction of new outdoor practice fields and a new indoor practice facility which is under construction. In addition, this fall the University will unveil improvements to the grounds of Williams Brice stadium, underscoring their commitment to become a premier college football venue!
“The project time constraints along with the LID techniques and state of the art design elements created a unique and challenging project. It took the entire project team working together to make it a success.”