The popular All Local Farmers Market is moving to the Rosewood neighborhood near the Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport, where the owner says he will expand its customer and vendor base, extend hours and grow the operation into a one-stop mercantile destination.
Soda City, as the concept will be known, is to be housed in a 65,000-square-foot building located next to the popular City Roots local farm on Commerce Drive, facing the downtown airport.
It will accommodate the All Local Farmers Market that has operated at 701 Whaley in Olympia Mill Village but on a larger scale. The new site also will include a gym, Carolina CrossFit, about two dozen offices, foods from all over the world and artisans while adding about 300 jobs, owner Emile DeFelice said.
Entertainment also should be available in the villages concept, along with alcohol and prepared-foods sales. DeFelice said he hopes to build the project out in the fall and open next spring.
What Im attempting to do here is give the city a brand and give the city something that no other city has, said DeFelice, who has spent years running his specialty hog farm business in Calhoun County.
The All Local Farmers Market is one big piece in a flurry of new business activity and redevelopment that either is under way or being planned in the Rosewood neighborhood between Rosewood Drive and Shop Road.
Five Points businessman Scott Linaberry is pursuing plans to turn the historic B-25 airplane hangar at Hamilton-Owens Airport into a family restaurant and event location with a major aviation flavor to it. Southern Vistas, once only a landscape design company on Commerce Drive, has blossomed into a thriving downtown garden center. And Columbia snagged a free fruit orchard a year ago for the Owens Field Recreational Area that will provide free fruit to the public.
Based on his experience at the All Local Farmers Market, DeFelice believes Columbia is ready for his new concept while taking advantage of what he sees as a major blunder by the state that consumers want corrected.
The Department of Agriculture had the poor judgment to move the (State) Farmers Market from where everybody liked it, to out in Lexington and it spent millions of taxpayer dollars doing so, DeFelice said. Nobody likes it there not the vendors, not the big vendors, not the customers, not the small vendors nobody. Its a ghost town and its a ghost town every time you go out there.
So were going to take advantage of their strategic error, and without a penny of taxpayer money, do it ourselves and bring the Farmers Market back downtown where it belongs, within a stones throw of where the old Farmers Market was (on Bluff Road across from William-Brice Stadium).
In addition to regular weekend activities, the venue will cater to the Latino community on Sundays emphasizing Latino vendors, events, customers and services, DeFelice said. In addition, Soda City is working with more than half a dozen small ethnic businesses that are now concentrated in certain parts of the Columbia area and deal primarily in Asian, West African, Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern and other specialty merchandising, to have a mini-store presence in the village, DeFelice said.
Naysayers sometimes have been ambivalent about business expansion prospects of the airport side of the Rosewood neighborhood, but that is changing now as new ventures succeed.
Once-vacant buildings in that area have been turned into fully occupied condominiums, and they border well-used high school athletic facilities close by, near groomed soccer fields and an active local airport. Both DeFelice and Linaberry like the areas future possibilities.
Im building a theater thats pretty much what we do at the All Local Farmers Market only a bigger one, DeFelice said. Its a stage and its up to the people of Columbia and South Carolina to populate it. So my slogan is, If its not porn or tobacco, talk to me.
The 12,000-square-foot hangar at the downtown airport has had very little done to it since its post-World War I origins, according to Linaberry, who is working on renovation and restoration plans for the facility with Joe Rogers, a State House and S.C. Governors Mansion architect.
Reaction so far has been good, Linaberry said.
Ive been in Five Points for 22 years now, and its very strange for me to explain to someone a project, whether its a county councilman, city councilman, zoning official or anyone else for that matter and get such a warm response, Linaberry said.
The Rosewood area is struggling with some difficulties, though.
State regulators said this week that soil tests have found traces of lead and arsenic at levels above what is considered natural in some neighborhood yards that abut the planned new farmers market. The arsenic and lead are believed to have trickled from an old fertilizer plant along Commerce Drive in the early 1900s.
That seems a bit mystifying in these days of regulation and oversight, DeFelice said, adding, however, that he knows the city of Columbia wants what is best for that neighborhood.
It certainly throws a wet blanket on it, DeFelice said of the contamination findings. Its odd to me that there are businesses that can operate with I wouldnt say impunity, but almost with impunity. But no, expanding an asphalt plant and having gigantic, empty warehouse buildings is not in the best interest of the neighborhood.
Despite the challenges, residents and neighborhood business owners alike have expressed excitement about plans for Airport Boulevard/Commerce Drive area, leaders there said.
Anything that will move us forward as a commerce destination is good for everyone, said Dave Britt, Rosewood Merchants Association executive director.
Rosewood recently hosted the TastyTomato Festival and about 3,000 people attended the event. So people are forward-looking about the area.
In order for something to be developed, you have to have a developer with a vision to see the potential, Britt said.