Recent upgrades bolster Garrison Arena’s versatility, value beyond livestock industry
PENDLETON — Versatility is fast becoming the name of the game for hosting livestock events and the T. Ed Garrison Arena at Clemson University is taking its game to the next level.
Already one of the Southeast’s premier multipurpose livestock facilities, the Garrison Arena is undergoing a series of upgrades to continue supporting South Carolina’s $1.2 billion livestock industry while increasing its adaptability to host a variety of new shows and events.
The upgrades include a trio of projects, two of which were recently completed: the conversion of a warmup riding arena into an all-weather competition arena and the addition of 25 full-service RV sites.
Additionally, the renovation of the 10,000-square-foot, concrete-floor cattle sale complex into a fully conditioned space is slated for completion January 2018.
“We are very excited about this renovation and feel it will greatly enhance the marketability of our facility,” Garrison Arena director Chris Heintze said.
The project will not only improve the complex’s ability to host existing events, but also open it up to a wide variety of new events. Existing events include poultry shows, bull and cattle sales, the student-led Little North American Livestock Show and the Spring Dairy Show for 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
The renovations will include new LED lighting, two 25-ton heating and cooling units and general upgrades to the facility, such as new insulation and fresh paint to transform the complex.
“We’re still going to house all of our agriculture events as we’ve done in the past while pushing for outside-the-box events, such as weddings and banquets to supplement revenue,” Heintze said. “We currently have fewer than 10 events there each year, which means it’s really been unused space most of the time. These renovations will maximize its value.”
A second project saw a warmup arena upgraded into an all-weather, 125- by 240-foot riding arena. This upgrade provides another competition venue for shows that will be usable no matter the weather. Completed in the fall, the all-weather arena hosted the Western Carolina Arabian Horse Association dressage events.
“It replaced a sand/clay-based arena that, if it rained, was completely unusable for weeks on end depending on how long it took to dry,” Heintze said. “The new arena contains all-weather footing that remains rideable in rainfall rates of up to two inches per hour. We now have the ability to host a show outside. It also helps bring in some of the larger events because they need more riding space, and weather is not going to be an issue with that arena anymore.”
The third project, also recently completed, was the addition of 25 full-service RV sites to bring the venue’s total to 70 sites with 30- and 50-amp power, water and sewer hookups, expanding the RV parking on both sides of the arena.
“We have a few shows that max out our existing RV sites, so this allows for more RVs for the patrons of our shows,” Heintze said. “It also allows us to show a dual presence. We can have a show going on, have folks come in and tailgate for football games or trail-riders come and stay. It gives us a way to self-promote the facility without it having to be tied to an event.”
Operated by Clemson Extension in the division of Public Service and Agriculture, the Garrison Arena is South Carolina’s only full-service, public facility designed to promote the state’s livestock industry by providing opportunities for shows, sales, exhibits and educational programs to benefit agriculture, agribusiness and the youth of South Carolina.
All three projects were accomplished within a $1 million budget approved by state legislature in 2016. Clemson is seeking additional funding for future upgrades that include a convention and expo center and new covered arena. The future upgrades would bolster the Garrison Arena’s value to South Carolina’s livestock, agriculture and tourism industries.
“The proposed covered arena would allow us to have multiple shows at one time or host some of the bigger shows, which require multiple event and arena spaces,” Heintze said. “That’s something we’re lacking. We have 440 permanent stalls, which will house most of those shows, but they need more event and arena space. It is not uncommon for these large horse shows to have three or four arenas going at one time. We would also be able to host multiple events over the same weekend.”
Plans for the convention and expo center call for a 30,000-square-foot expo hall and 10,000-square-foot convention center with office space and a full commercial kitchen.
“That brings in another realm of what we could host, such as trade and craft shows, graduations and big events like that,” Heintze said. “There is a market, here in South Carolina, because there are very few expo centers in this area, and we’re in the perfect location on Interstate 85 in the center of the Southeast.”
A 2012 impact study showed the Garrison Arena provided $4.38 million in direct spending to the local economy annually.
Glenn Brill, director of Anderson County Parks, Recreation and Tourism, agreed the proposed improvements would attract more events by providing meeting and exhibition space not currently available in the Upstate.
“Tourism is one of the top 10 industries in Anderson County, and certainly the proposed improvements to the Garrison Arena would only increase that,” Brill said. “Adding an exhibition hall would make for bigger and better livestock shows. It could also extend the length of these events. Instead of just having a two-day horse show, you could have a three-day show with lectures and seminars and a trade show, and that would just generate more heads in beds and more economic impact for Anderson County, but also for Oconee and Pickens counties.”
Clemson Area Chamber of Commerce tourism director Kade Herrick said the recent upgrades have already begun to generate interest in using the Garrison Arena for many new uses.
“We are looking at hosting a couple of different wrestling events, archery and using the sales barn as a vendor/distributor area for a fishing tournament,” Herrick said. “Because of its size, parking and ease of access, Garrison is a wonderful place to host many events. Livestock will always be the main focus, but if we can fill in off days with other events, it makes the venue that much more impactful. We also believe that Garrison Arena would be a great location to host country concerts, as well.
“I really think that with the right events that Garrison could be a goldmine for the university and the local community,” he added. “The list of events that could be held in the arena or on the surrounding property is endless.”