COLUMBIA — The Convention and Visitors Bureau approved a $50,000 request for funding from Sustainable Farms and Communities, Inc. that will go toward building the Columbia Pavilion and Education Center — Home of the Columbia Farmers' Market.
The pavilion also would become the permanent home of the Columbia Farmers' Market, which Sustainable Farms and Communities runs.
Members of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board approved the request during their Monday meeting. They stipulated, though, that the bureau won't hand over the money until they see construction documents and required permits.
The total cost of the center, which will be built on city property adjacent to the Activity and Recreation Center at Ash Street and Clinkscales Road, is estimated at $2.5 million.
The market group's application to the bureau said its fundraising campaign for the pavilion has collected nearly $300,000. Casey Corbin, executive director of Sustainable Farms and Communities, said the group has raised an additional $25,000 since the application was submitted April 4.
Board members earmarked the bureau's money for the educational center, saying it is more likely to generate overnight tourists and, therefore, revenue from hotel and motel stays. Corbin believes that the pavilion will attract visitors with its design.
"That’s going to be a huge draw," Corbin said. "It will be the most state-of-the-art center in Columbia. It puts events in the heart of under-served communities."
Corbin considers the funding a big victory because it shows other potential donors that Sustainable Farms has support.
"The letter of support, the money being put aside, this is a very serious project for Columbia," Corbin said.
Bob McDonald, chairman of the advisory board, believes in the sustainability of the farmers market.
"At least we have history here," McDonald said. "We have (a) ... foundation of people that go to this, and they’re just building upon it."
Representatives of Sustainable Farms believe they can build on the momentum the farmers market has gained. They noted that the market at its peak can attract thousands of visitors in a very short time.
It set a record on July 18, 2009, when 6,700 customers shopped at the market in four hours, according to the application.
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, thinks the center can succeed.
"This will bring in a lot of day-trippers," Steiner said. "It will be a regional draw if it is completed as conceptualized."
Sustainable Farms hopes to complete the pavilion by December 2012.