FOMZI Pitches Grand Proposal

WINNSBORO – Town Council tabled a final decision on whether to destroy the entire Mt. Zion Institute building or allow the Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI) to save and renovate its auditorium at their Oct. 1 meeting, instead taking the matter into executive session and emerging to ask FOMZI to bring them a written proposal for renovation at the next meeting.

On Monday evening FOMZI did just that, but the proposal was no longer for renovating just the auditorium, but the entire building.

“Many of you question the ability of FOMZI to mount an effective campaign to save Mt. Zion,” FOMZI’s Brenda Miller told Council, “and I understand your skepticism, but we have not been allowed an opportunity to see what we can do.”

Miller, along with other FOMZI members presented Council with a multi-stage plan to restore and rehabilitate the entire building with the Blair College of Art as a prospective tenant.

“The timeline depends on when the town would allow us to get to work on the building. If you give us a chance,” Miller said, “we can transform the appearance of the classroom building within six months to something more appealing and bring the building into compliance with the Town’s new appearance ordinances.”

Miller said the group has been meeting with several developers who see the potential of the renovation for the Town.

Miller said one of those developers, Richard Burts, turned the rotting, roofless Olympia Village Community Center on Whaley Street into one of Columbia’s premier arts and event centers. She said Burts had agreed to be a mentor and advisor for the revitalization of Mt. Zion.

Miller said the use of tax credit incentives allowed under a new law spearheaded by State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17) would greatly reduce final costs of the project to as low as $2.5 million.

FOMZI member Vicki Dodds told Council that the renovation work would be broken into three phases over a two-year period and that after each phase, if Council didn’t approve of what they were doing, they would stop their work. She assured Council that while FOMZI had only $60,000 and pledges of $15-17,000 more, they had additional potential resources including donations of materials and labor and corporate solicitation. She suggested establishing an oversight board for the renovation from FOMZI, the Town, Chamber, County and Blair College of Art.

Earlier, former Town Councilman Bill Haslett said he would love to keep the Institute and shamed Council for not doing its part over the last five to 10 years to maintain or improve the building.

“Mt. Zion gave you the building and $100,000 and that money is still sitting in the bank, the building has rotted and now the Town wants to tear it down,” Haslett said. Haslett also blamed Council for not following up to see that Red Clay made agreed-upon improvements to the building during the three years they had it. “Then the Town had to pay $25,000 to get the building back.”

Haslett said he supported what FOMZI wanted to do with the building and suggested the Town let FOMZI have the $100,000 toward the renovation.

“They’re saving history,” Haslett said.

Dodds told Council, “The biggest impediment Red Clay had was that it could not get a loan and couldn’t get started. We’re sitting here with money and we’re ready to get to work. Once this project is in progress,” Dodds assured Council, “it will mushroom. Just give us two years.”

Turning to the Council members, Dodds said, “You men know the potential for our Town if we save that landmark.”

After listening silently to the presentations, Council members thanked FOMZI’s presenters, but did not bring the matter to a vote.

In other business, Mayor pro tem Jackie Wilkes read a proclamation regarding the anniversary of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. Town manager Don Wood also suggested dates for rescheduling the Intergovernmental meeting with the County and School Board to Nov. 14 or 21. Council voted to go into executive session to discuss legal/contractual matters concerning water and sewer with Fairfield County Commerce Center. No action was taken following the closed session. Council’s next meeting is Nov. 5 at 6:15 p.m. at Town Hall.

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