Hope Lingers for Historic Building

FAIRFIELD – When County Council first broached the subject of demolishing the dilapidated former home of the County’s Voter Registration office at 117 E. Washington St. in Winnsboro during their April 22 meeting, the timing could not have been worse for Chamber of Commerce President Terry Vickers. Vickers told Council that night that her organization had just been green-lighted for a $40,000 grant to implement a farmer’s market in downtown Winnsboro, and the historic livery stable at 117 E. Washington was part of that vision.

“I know the Council has been very lenient with that building,” Vickers said back on April 22. “I know that building is not in good shape. But we still have dreams of using that building, because it is an historic building.”

But Phil Hinely, County Administrator, said it was a miracle that the building was still standing at all. Hinely told Council last month that the building was a fire hazard and suffered from every possible code violation one could name. He was surprised, he said, that the building had even survived through the winter. Hinely recommended that the County move forward with razing the structure and replace it with a building to be used for housing records from the County Courthouse, as well as evidence from past criminal cases, all of which he said the County was required by law to maintain. David Ferguson, Council Chairman (District 5), said it would cost the County more to bring the building up to code than to replace it, and said Council would have to take the matter up in the near future.

But an alternative may have been found.

During a May 6 work session, Councilman David Brown (District 7) asked Council to consider a proposal from Christ Central Ministries (CCM) to repair the building, bring it up to code and make it part of Vickers’ farmer’s market plan. CCM has almost completed renovations to the Fairfield Country Club, Brown said last week, and a plan for 117 E. Washington will be presented to Council at their June 10 meeting.

“They’ll renovate it and give the front third of the building to the Chamber, rent-free,” Brown, who sits on the CCM Board of Directors, said. “The middle third can be used for classrooms, and the back third can be converted into a kitchen.”

A covered area can be added to the rear of the building, Brown said, to serve the farmer’s market. And the whole project would not cost the County a dime.

“It’s cheaper than tearing it down,’ Brown said, “and that’s the only way it’s going to get renovated.”

Vickers and the Chamber have been temporarily relocated to 120 N. Congress St. while renovations are currently under way at the Town Clock. Being in a ground-floor office, she said, has had its advantages and new offices, also on the ground floor – and rent-free – sound too good to pass up. But there may be a downside, she said.

“There’s something to be said for being on the first floor,” Vickers said. “We’ve gotten very used to not climbing stairs every day, and our foot traffic has doubled, if not tripled, since we’ve been here.”

Vickers said she was somewhat apprehensive about being located on a side street, if the 117 E. Washington location worked out to be their future home. And, she added, she would feel better if she knew the future of the old News and Herald Tavern building (114 E. Washington St.), which was gutted by fire more than two years ago. She also said she hoped any proposal by CCM would include the farmer’s market, which is more than just a market. Funded by a grant from Clemson University, the market is also an educational program, designed to offer classes on how to can and preserve fruits and vegetables and how to mass produce those goods and market them. The market itself, she said, would go beyond a traditional farmer’s market and would be certified to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards as well as similar federal assistance for seniors.

“This would open up new revenue streams for our local growers,” Vickers said.

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