SUMMERVILLE — Residents could be seeing special events at a renovated John McKissick Field and Memorial Stadium as early as the 2021 Flowertown Festival, organizers say.
The town, Dorchester County, Dorchester District 2 and Summerville High School Athletics are partnering to turn McKissick field into a major event space.
Organizers are looking to have the stadium open for events by spring or the high school football season at the latest.
"It's what the town of Summerville is missing," said Jimmy Tupper, a local builder and one of the leaders overseeing the stadium project.
Improvements include bathroom renovations, new gates, new landscaping and paving an empty lot near the field to create more parking spaces.
At a recent County Council meeting, officials approved increasing the stadium contribution from hospitality tax revenues from $300,000 to $350,000. The purpose is to cover the cost of installing artificial turf on the field.
Jason Ward, the county administrator, said having a turf field should allow more activities to be hosted at the stadium.
"Natural grass fields have a longer recovery time," he said.
The town is also contributing $300,000 to the project. Tupper said they will start the bidding process for the turf following final official approval from the DD2 school board at a Nov. 23 meeting.
DD2 is expected to manage a lot of the improvement funds for the stadium. The board with the South Magnolia Event Group will help as well. That board is comprised of representatives from all of the partnering entities.
Town Councilman Terry Jenkins is one of the board members. He said officials believe in the long-term value of the project.
"It's going to be a wonderful thing," he said.
The stadium is located on South Magnolia Street near downtown Summerville and Azalea Park. Town and county officials see the facility as an opportunity to bring additional funds to the area.
Steve Doniger is the president of Summerville DREAM, an organization dedicated to revitalizing the downtown area. He said when the stadium is fully functional it's going to have a huge impact on the downtown area.
Bringing more people in town for events means more opportunities for people to visit downtown to shop and eat.
“What’s really great about the space is that it's a multifunctional kind of space," he said.
Organizers are envisioning hosting concerts, movie nights, football watch parties, the farmers market and other festival and special events at the stadium.
At the upcoming 2021 Flowertown Festival, Tupper and Jenkins said they are expecting for some of the events and vendors to utilize the stadium. This gives the festival an option to expand and have an additional outdoor venue resource.
In its current state, the field is primarily used for football. It also hadn't seen renovations since the 1980s.
“It can just bring more visibility and opportunity to Summerville," said Rita Berry, president of the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber's board recently announced its full support of the stadium project to help with fundraising. In addition to county and town contributions, Tupper said they are also hoping to raise at least an additional $300,000.
Those wishing to donate can email Tupper at email@example.com for more information on how to do so.
“It's not just football anymore," Tupper said. "The whole town is going to be able to use it.“
The town has never been able to host large concert events. So that will be a big game changer, Berry said.
With social distancing being a new normal, she said having that space would've been great in a year like this.
“The historical significance of that field is pretty strong," she said.
Tupper and others say the biggest inspiration behind improving the field is to honor its namesake, John McKissick.
McKissick was the renowned Summerville High football coach who died in 2019.
Tupper is a former player under McKissick. The current football coach, Ian Rafferty, also played under McKissick with Tupper.
Rafferty pushed for the improvements after he was hired as the Summerville coach earlier this year. So the renovations will also include a large statue of John McKissick and his wife Joan.
Coach McKissick led the Green Wave to 10 state championships during his coaching tenure from 1952 to 2014. Between 1978 and 1980 McKissick also maintained a record 41-game winning streak.
The field was named after him in 1987 after the Summerville Exchange Club purchased the stadium in the 1950s.
Tupper said as a former player it's an honor to be part of the project. With the statues, he said it was vital that they include Coach McKissick's wife.
”She sacrificed all those years of him coaching all of us," he said.