One More Time

In a place where progress seems to come with less frequency than Santa Claus, it is difficult to believe that doing nothing is sometimes the best course of action. The wisest decisions are rarely made in haste; and while the building that was once home to the Mt. Zion Institute has had more second chances than Johnny Carson has had wives, one more last chance for a last chance was exactly the right thing for Winnsboro Town Council to do.

Council has been flirting with the wrecking ball for a number of years, most recently in 2009 when the property was instead deeded over to Red Clay Development, a company whose plans may have been sound but whose timing in regards to the economic climate could only have been worse if they had bought into the project in October of 1929. Tuesday night, Council once again spared the building from becoming a pile of smoking rubble, if only temporarily, until a proposal could be put together by the Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI).

FOMZI, no doubt, has all the right intentions, and even a little money. But it will take a lot more than a little money to rescue a building that has been surrendered to time and the elements for better than a generation. Where FOMZI has tens of thousands, Mt. Zion will require millions of dollars and five to 10 years of labor, conservatively speaking. In the week between the Sept. 24 work session between Council and FOMZI, the Friends have already given serious thought to scaling back their ambitions, from rescuing the entire structure to saving only the auditorium. Even that is a considerable project, but it is like the difference between establishing a permanent human colony on Mars and just going to the moon a few times to collect rocks. One project you could live to see, the other your grandchildren might live long enough to plan.

Council was faced with an unenviable decision Tuesday night – either close the books on an unfortunate chapter in Winnsboro history, or give someone else one more shot at redemption – and they made the most of it. Delaying long enough to see what FOMZI can bring to the table was a good-faith move; but it wasn’t the final move, and Council still has to accept any proposal submitted by FOMZI.

Provided any lease agreement between FOMZI and the Town is structured correctly, the Town really has nothing to lose by giving FOMZI a chance. If it doesn’t work out, then the Town can pull the plug on the patient with a clean conscience, knowing they truly did everything that they could to save it.

If, on the other hand, FOMZI’s proposal is rejected and the demolition crews move in without the Friends at least having an opportunity to fail, this Council will forever be known as the Council that killed Mt. Zion.

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