The Gateway
Conference Center

Objective: a state-of-the-art event venue and conference center to serve as a visitor’s center and tourism gateway to the county and provide a flexible, upscale facility to host large weddings, corporate events, and other civic and social gatherings.

Client: Chester County Economic Development, Chester, South Carolina

Location: Richburg, South Carolina

Size: 31,744 square feet; 15-acre site


  • portico-covered drive and main entrance
  • expansive welcome/reception area, gallery, two-story solarium and other public spaces for pre- and post-function or exhibit/display use
  • bride’s room and groom’s lounge
  • 6,031 sq. ft. ballroom, dividable into two rooms, with adjacent exterior patio
  • 2,958 sq. ft. meeting room, dividable into two rooms
  • 3,198 sq. ft. meeting room, dividable into three rooms, with adjacent exterior patio
  • 396 sq. ft. conference room with adjacent exterior patio
  • outdoor patios with integrated audio and satellite radio systems
  • state-of-the-art audio-visual and teleconferencing systems
  • 600 paved, fully lighted parking spaces
  • twin catering kitchens with exterior access
  • rear service corridor for back-of-house functions
  • site plan includes reserved space for a future hotel

Cost: $2.58 million

Images of our commercial architectural design for  conference center

Years before, the book-matched buildings with bright showrooms and spacious floorplans had quickly become the region’s destination auto dealership. Its vehicle selection and convenient location at the intersection of I-77 and SC Highway 9 in Chester County attracted upscale buyers from throughout South Carolina’s seven surrounding counties as well as from the more urban areas of Charlotte, Concord and Gastonia, North Carolina. But when the Nourse Interstate Auto Mall, really two dealerships built next to one another, lost its franchise in 2009, an early victim of the recession and the automotive industry crisis, its shuttered facilities became a symbol of the corridor’s shattered economy.

Yet because its strategic strengths remained – a highly visible location midway between two of the Southeast’s fastest growing cities, a diversified economy, a growing tourism industry, and a loyal local community – civic leaders recognized that the facility could be repurposed. In a county with no venue suitable for large social or corporate events, the renewed destination could help jumpstart economic development.

Attracting weddings, proms, banquets and other social occasions requires a stylish, versatile venue, with ballroom and banquet facilities able to seat 400 guests or more, but configurable to host smaller events comfortably. Business functions demand flexible conference and teleconference facilities, catering and dining spaces, exhibition/display areas, pre- and post-function gathering areas, and meeting and breakout rooms. Tourism and corporate recruitment would best be served by an engaging lobby and inviting registration and visitor information centers.

Could all these audiences and events command center stage in a former car dealership and repair garage?

Carlisle Associates reconciled the requirements of the various users, markets and stakeholders literally by building common ground. Appropriating the 30-foot lawn between the two buildings to create an infill addition connects the structures and provides an economical solution with significant aesthetic and functional benefits:

  • Consolidating utilities, mechanical, plumbing, and exterior equipment within the addition or on its roof terrace reduced construction time and costs by avoiding complex modifications to the existing building’s pre-engineered structure; protecting equipment against vandalism; and minimizing transmission of mechanical noise to the adjoining public areas.
  • Exploiting the area’s height requirements presented the opportunity to incorporate a two-story solarium into the addition’s common space, a dramatic focal point that offers sunset views to guests and glimpses of the gatherings inside to passersby.
  • Separating back-of-house circulation from public and guest pathways maintains event ambience by ensuring that service functions can be be performed discreetly; providing convenient hallway access to service and storage areas; and enhancing safety and security.
  • Interior and exterior spaces are designed to be comfortable, accessible and photogenic.

Through careful planning and supervision, Carlisle was able to accomplish all site and facility renovations without disrupting the existing county offices’ daily operations.

In 2014, the South Carolina Department of Commerce honored Chester County and The Gateway with the Palmetto Partnership Award, given to recognize models of how rural communities efficiently and economically accomplish tasks through teamwork.