Ridgeway Council proceeds with Cotton Yard purchase

RIDGEWAY – Mayor Heath Cookendorfer called a special council meeting Monday evening to put the Cotton Yard purchase to bed – to either move forward to purchase it or to back out of the purchase.

Cookendorfer said he wanted both residents and Council members to have the chance to speak their minds in public about the pending purchase from Norfolk Southern. Two members of the audience, Tina Johnson and Vicki Maass, spoke in favor of the purchase. Council members then had their turns.

“The Cotton Yard is the center of our town and is an asset,” Councilman Dan Martin said. “Nobody likes the price, but my feeling is that if we pull out now, we’re going to lose $15,000 up front,” Martin said. “It would be good to have control of it. That’s my thinking.”

“No doubt we need to buy it,” Councilman Rufus Jones agreed, but with a caveat. “I hate to be forced to buy it and that’s what we have to do because of the last administration. We used it for years for free, and they kept messing with the railroad till they got ticked off and I don’t think we have a choice but to buy it. The amount is ridiculous, but I don’t see where we have a choice,” Jones said.

“I voted against it in the previous administration, and I vote against it now,” Councilman Don Prioleau said. “I felt $73,000 plus all the other fees was too much. As Councilman Jones said, we always used this property at no cost. I voted against it, and today I vote against it.”

Councilwoman Angela Harrison passed on speaking, and Cookendorfer took his turn.

“As part of the previous administration, I thought the first price was a fair, economical decision,” Cookendorfer said. “Then we got the second one and I was against that. But I’ve also been one to say I hate losing money. At this point, we’ve spent $15,000 on the earnest money, the survey, legal fees and phase one of the environmental study.  The Cotton Yard is a big part of our downtown, so I agree that we need to move forward with the purchase.”

Jones said he would like to see the fire station and police station on the property renovated for use as spaces for merchants.

“Maybe we could get a grant to help pay for it,” Jones said.

“So am I to understand that there have been discussions about what to do with the buildings in the Cotton Yard that I’ve not been privy to?” Harrison asked.

“I’ve mentioned in open session that I would like to see something go there as rental space,” Cookendorfer said. “I’ve been more than forthcoming that that is something I would like to see.”

“In the past we did discuss buying the property under the buildings. Just a discussion. We talked about taking the space next to the (old) post office and making that into public restrooms…” Prioleau said before Harrison interrupted.

“Well that’s not what’s up for discussion tonight and it wasn’t on the agenda for discussion…”

“We’re just discussing buying the property and what we’ll do with it if we buy it…,” Prioleau said.

After further discussion about boundaries of the Cotton Yard and the railroad’s 65-foot right of way,
Cookendorfer closed in on the purchase.

“It sounds like Council would like to move forward except for Councilman Prioleau,” Cookendorfer said. Council agreed that the mayor would contact the Town’s attorney for the contract and move forward with the closing on June 22.

Following the meeting, Cookendorfer said he would like to see the former Just Around the Corner consignment shop (behind Olde Town Hall Restaurant) renovated for use as public restrooms.

“I think that would be helpful to the merchants and a good use for the building,” Cookendorfer said. “It’s all about funding. That’s where we stand now.”

The property inside the red line is the .65 acres the Ridgeway Town Council is purchasing from Norfolk Southern Railroad.

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