'Path of totality' presents opportunities for S.C. cities

Last August, an astronomy photographer in New York called the City of Newberry to find out its plans for the great eclipse of August 2017.

"He was telling me this is the shot of his career," said Mary Alex Kopp, tourism and events coordinator for the City of Newberry. "So he's coming to Newberry specifically because he felt our area would be the best for his purposes, and the fact that we're a rural community was very beneficial to him" to get the perfect shot of the eclipse on Monday, August 21.

With visitors coming from around the world to experience a transcontinental total solar eclipse — the likes of which hasn't happened for 99 years — some 140 South Carolina cities and towns, including Newberry, are uniquely positioned to offer residents and visitors a phenomenal couple of minutes, preceded by a memorable weekend.

But with a bit of planning, the approximately 2 ½-minute event (length depends on where a city sits inside the path of the eclipse) can have a lasting impact on a city's image and economic development potential.

"An eclipse like this is a humbling, jaw-dropping experience that stays with you for the rest of your life," said Tracie Broom, cofounding partner of Flock and Rally, the Columbia-based marketing firm that is leading the Midlands' eclipse campaign. "It's going to be a profound experience."

The City of Newberry is partnering with the Newberry Opera House, Newberry College, the Newberry Downtown Merchants Association and others. There will be a free outdoor showing of NASA- themed movie,"Hidden Figures," specially branded sunglasses, local food trucks and a public countdown to the eclipse. Newberry's hotel rooms have been largely booked since April.

"We want people to come downtown and have a good time, but the best place to see the eclipse is going to be in the middle of a field," said Kopp. "That's why we're planning for a weekend of activity instead of just one blowout day."

Any town or city "in the path of totality" can use the once-in-a-lifetime event to showcase its unique appeal. Broom offered ideas for cities to use when making plans for the eclipse: Plan a free public viewing event; make sure there is some shade and cool beverages; hire someone to manage parking, traffic and sanitation; coordinate with public safety officials and logistics organizers; and finally, make sure you've advertised the event.

"Let's show them what a wonderful place this is," said Broom, adding that people from as far away as England have already booked reservations to experience the eclipse in Columbia. The state's capital city is the nation's third largest city on the center line of the path of totality, with the longest duration of 100 percent total solar eclipse on the East Coast.

"It's not just about this one day," she said.

Broom said that local attractions, such as an American Revolutionary War battlefield or an African American history site, would likely receive traffic from eclipse tourists who would want to make the most of their visit.

"If you've got any tourism assets, pull 'em out, shine 'em up and put 'em on display," said Broom.

The Town of Santee plans to do so.

The weekend leading up to the eclipse will include presentations about local Revolutionary War legend Francis Marion, "the Swampfox," in addition to eclipse-related topics. Santee State Park is expected to feature festivities, too, including a 100-boat flotilla and possibly a geocaching hunt, in which participants search for items using GPS-enabled devices and set of GPS coordinates.

Another idea is to brand a piece of memorabilia, such as a reusable plastic water bottle, with the town or city's name or logo. Eclipse glasses, too, are a potential branding item. The Midlands' effort is offering to sell eclipse sunglasses at a bulk-order price to any city or town that would like to distribute them to the public, available with the town's own branding. Broom's goal is to have 400,000 of the glasses to pass out in the Midlands.

In the Columbia area, an array of events include a Star Wars-themed concert by the S.C. Philharmonic, a Columbia Fireflies baseball game, in which play stops at the exact moment of the eclipse, and a visit from astronaut Charles Moss "Charlie" Duke Jr., who was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and attended Lancaster High School in Lancaster, South Carolina.

"You can have an incredible economic impact," Broom said.