Winnsboro, Red Clay Party Ways

In a unanimous decision Tuesday night, Winnsboro Town Council voted to sever ties with Red Clay Development, the North Carolina firm that, nearly three years ago, purchased the Mount Zion Institute from the Town for $100,000.

“We appreciate the enthusiasm and participation of FOMZI (Friends of Mt. Zion Institute),” Councilman Clyde Sanders said after the vote. “We look forward to working with FOMZI on hopefully saving Mt. Zion. We would like to invite them to our meeting in January so we can discuss what we would like to see and see what their participation might be.”

Red Clay’s zoning application, passed shortly after the purchase of the property, outlined plans for local, “Main Street” oriented businesses. Planned uses for the property included retail business such as an antique store, art supply, retail bakery, book/magazine/newspaper shop, deli or other restaurant (with restrictions), a pharmacy, florist, gifts, hobby shop, office supply, photography studio or a printing /shipping store. Red Clay was also responsible for maintaining the building and the grounds while plans for construction and the search for tenants was under way.

But after three years, none of these things materialized and the old school house has continued to deteriorate.

“At the last meeting we’d asked for some information on what they planned to do to stabilize the building and also to put some investment in it so it wasn’t such an eyesore,” Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said. “We don’t see any substantial movement in that. Also, the things that had promised to be done – securing of funding for Mt. Zion Institute and refurbishing of it – had not come to fruition and really did not meet the details of the contract. Because of that, and we think we’ve given adequate time, even though we realize there’s been other issues with the economy that may be out of everybody’s control, it’s one of those things we don’t think we can go forward in the situation that we’re in.”

One year ago, Red Clay’s deadline for beginning construction came to an end. At that time, as the property was set to revert back into the hands of the Town, Red Clay brought a proposal to Town Council for the building to house the future home of the Dru Blair School of Art. However, it was made clear at the Dec. 4 Town Council meeting that Blair was five to six years away from having enough students to justify making Mt. Zion home.

What happens next for the beleaguered site is up in the air, and Council is hoping for assistance from FOMZI.

“We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to it right now,” Gaddy said. “We certainly don’t see any movement, or appropriate movement, or the movement that needs to be made with the relationship that we have. Different deadlines have not been made, obligations have not been kept, so we feel like we need to move in another direction. We feel like the FOMZI people are very dedicated to the project. Whether or not they’ll be able to make the financial commitment that will be necessary will be their decision, but we’re willing to explore different avenues with them and to work closely with them in any way we can to hopefully save the project. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, then I think everybody’s given an honest effort and a very hard and dedicated effort. No one should feel bad about the lack of dedication our citizens have had to try to preserve this historic place.”

FOMZI’s Vicki Dodds said her organization is ready to get to work. In an email last week, Dodds said the first things on FOMZI’s list are a clean-up of the building’s exterior and the grounds, as well as maintenance of the roof to eliminate further water damage. Dodds said Tuesday night that she was sorry to hear about the split between the Town and Red Clay.

“I think Red Clay has tried very hard under some difficult circumstances,” Dodds said. “FOMZI is committed to seeing the project progress, though, and will continue to work toward that goal. We certainly welcome the Town, County and anyone else who’ll further that goal.”

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