Winnsboro Town Hall focused on revitalization

More than 80 people attended the first Town Hall revitalization meeting. | Photos: Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – More than 80 residents attended what Winnsboro town government officials say is the first of several town hall type meetings to be held to talk with citizens about ways to revitalize the town by harnessing new opportunities and new funding coming Winnsboro’s way.

Mayor John McMeekin, Mayor Pro Tem Demetrius Chatman, Town Manager Jason Taylor and Assistant Town Manager Chris Clauson drove the discussion and fielded citizen’s questions. Representative Annie McDaniel, who was in session, joined the meeting late.

“This meeting is to get ideas from the citizens of Winnsboro,” Chatman said as he opened the meeting. 

Taylor laid out some of the revitalization plans for the town, saying, however, that the town government cannot do it alone.

“We will need a lot of help from the citizens to make this happen,” Taylor said.  “Our Council has already put around $200,000 in our budget to address some of the downtown needs. We also have $500,000 from the legislative delegation spearheaded by Annie McDaniel, our representative, and we are very appreciative for these funds. If we are successful on this first round, hopefully Annie can help us with additional funding.” 

The Town recently also received a grant for $420,000 to restore Fortune Springs Park.

“There are a lot of avenues that we can take with this funding, so we’re going to try to pair it with some of our own money,” Taylor said. 

In addition to new funding available to the town, Taylor also talked about the new opportunities.

“A huge opportunity is what’s going on in Blythewood with the Scout plant,” Taylor said. “They’re investing $2B and creating 4,000 plus jobs in phase I.  The state is putting in another $1.2B.  This is going to bring new opportunities our way and we need to get prepared,” he said, pointing out that Winnsboro has things Blythewood and other towns don’t. 

“We have an intact historic downtown. This is something a lot of people are looking for,” Taylor said. “However, our downtown is in pretty rough condition right now. The first thing we need to address is the quality of the buildings.  One strategy we’ve looked at is taking some of this money to get buildings ready to go. We also want to put tenants into the buildings to make them financially viable.  We also need businesses that don’t have to depend on the local population to survive, but can bring people in, such as a good BBQ restaurant or a brew pub that will anchor the downtown to attract the outsiders.  This is how we’ll grow a local economy.  These are some of the things we’re looking at in other downtowns that have been successful.” 

Clauson, who has a background in planning and development, said towns that are healthy, grow. 

“What is keeping Winnsboro from growing?” he asked. “We have aging infrastructure, some of our buildings are in bad shape, and a lot of the buildings are not even available.  We must get them from being storage units to being productive, viable business,” Clauson said.  “With an all-hands-on-deck approach, we must make the town more inviting. For example, the four lanes downtown are not inviting.”

Taylor also talked about way the town has already made improvements that support tourism and visitors.

“We have made the town safer.  The Police Department is now fully staffed, and they have been given direction to engage the community.  Cameras have been installed all over town and have been extremely helpful to our police officers in keeping the town safer,” Taylor said.

Clauson suggested closing the downtown to traffic for events and finding the right event niches to attract visitors.  “We have to bring outside dollars into the Town,” he said, pointing to the revitalization of Rock Hill as an example.

“We must focus on infrastructure, creating an environment where business can come in and thrive, streamlining permitting, adding incentives and making it easier/cheaper for businesses to come in,” Clauson said. “Taxes could be capped on historic structures as long as they put money into it.”

Panelists were Town Manager Jason Taylor, Mayor John McMeekin, Asst. Town Manager Chris Clauson, House Rep Annie McDaniel and Mayor Pro Tem Demetrius Chatman

Here are some of the ideas and questions put forth by the meeting attendees and answered by the panelists.

Is it in the plan to go from four lanes back to two lanes downtown?

McMeekin:  Everything is on the table. This is think-tank time. 

Taylor:  I like this idea.  However, a lot of the decisions we might like, DOT may not like.  There are a lot of partners we need to work with to pull all this off.  Drainage issues are a problem downtown.  Over the years, drainage spaces were closed off which caused flooding in back of some of the downtown buildings.  There are also issues with contamination problems and clearances are needed from DHEC.  It would be tougher for a private individual to deal with some of these problems than it is for the Town.  In some areas our options are limited. 

One of our biggest assets are the historic homes and architecturally significant homes In Winnsboro.  There is a historic district, but the concern is, what will protect the historic homes if they’re bought?  Can covenants be placed on these? 

Taylor: Yes, in fact, Pelham Lyles (director of our museum) is working on a non-profit aspect to this.  

Is there a strategy to get some of the owners to turn their empty buildings into productive buildings? 

Taylor:  Owners need to make their empty properties available. A number of property owners have been talked with, and there are a couple who will have some available. We’re also looking into tax sales.  The Town currently has an option on a downtown building that we hope to turn into a productive asset for the town. I think businesses like the idea of being in the downtown area, but we’re going to need people assisting the Town to get some of this done.  Initially, the first strategy is to build a good relationship with people.  The code ordinances have been beefed up recently.  One property downtown has the roof falling in, and if something is not done, the Town will have to go in and mitigate the problem and then charge it back to the owner which would result in a tax lien.  There is a process to go through with this. 

Don’t just focus on Main Street because a lot of work is needed behind Main Street in the parking areas. 

Taylor: When we were at the county, Chris and I looked into getting the (Farmers Market) parking area improved. All but one property owner has agreed to allow an easement for improvement to the lot. We still hope that can be done. Most of the lot is owned by the adjacent property owners who must sign over an easement for the parking lot to be improved. 

Can some thought be given to green space in the empty lots with park benches and trees to make it pretty? 

Taylor: Making the Town more inviting would get people in to do businesses. This is a wonderful thing to see. Trees and landscaping are critical to this, and a treed street median would be good for downtown.  A community orchard could be planted on the Mt. Zion green. 

What about working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in areas like Winnsborough Point? It would be nice to see this property move forward.

Taylor:  I agree. This development was begun in the late 80s and just never moved forward.  I would like to see that happen.

Any discussion with developers about housing developments in the area? 

Taylor:  Yes, development is not just about downtown. But we need other businesses to help make this happen. Going back to Scout, once this announcement was made, the phone started ringing from developers. Winnsboro is a utility company also, and some of these calls have been concerning utilities. They are starting to look at us, and this is clearly an opportunity coming from Scout.

What about having a video contest to present the Town and businesses?

Taylor:  I like the concept, a good idea. But, we need to do some in-house product development first.

Some properties in the town are major challenges.  Can something be done to camoflauge them, maybe painting them beautifully so they can become part of the landscape or hardscape until we have more improvement in the town? 

Chatman:  Window wraps have been discussed and marketing can be done in this way.  This would be better than the ugly papers in the windows.  If anyone knows the owners of the vacant buildings, talk to them.  This is all about connections. 

Is there a public listing of the people who own these properties? 

Taylor:  They are available on the tax assessor’s website and anyone can call him for information. 

We need to consider more tourism for Winnsboro, and have nice tables and chairs on the siewalks. We need to do something to attract the young people and to bring people off I-77 –  maybe Bites and Beer, a play area for children with a merry-go-round. 

Taylor:  I agree 100 percent.  A lot of people travel to the beaches or mountains, which cannot be recreated.  People do travel for other things, such as food.  We can be the local alternative with restaurants and outdoor recreation draws.

Is there infrastructure to build subdivisions?  We have a lot of land where half acre lots could be offered instead of quarter acre lots, which could be a drawing card for us if we can provide the infrastructure. 

Taylor:  Great question, all of the things we’ve talked about need utilities to support them.  We have sufficient water and an interconnection with Columbia.  We have a good distribution system, but we need more lines in the ground.  Sewer, however, is a problem with a limited amount of sewer capacity. A new sewer plant is being looked at, it’s not an easy or quick fix.  This is being worked on very hard and must be solved.

Is there a specialized team working on the sewer issue? 

McMeekin:  Yes, it’s the Fairfield Joint Water and Sewer System, and I’m the chairman of it.  It’s a very complicated process to get there, but we’re trying our best. 

Taylor:  The price of a sewer plant is in the $50M range. A time consuming and expensive prospect.  The County does have a fair amount of money toward this from the Dominion settlement to help construct one.  We are in a good position as far as that goes.

Let’s put up billboards advertising our proximity to white water rafting. Fortune Springs has a beautiful amphitheater that is not used.  A concert series is a good idea.

Taylor:  Fortune Springs Park is a huge asset and we are definitely going to give it some attention. 

We need to change peoples’ mindset.  Some don’t want the town to change.  Some buildings are owned by people who will not let them go and prices are way too high.

Taylor:  We have to change or die.  Change is scary to a lot of people.  But all those downtown buildings that don’t have occupants in them, they don’t pay utility bills and are a huge loss of opportunity.  That is what upgrades and maintains the utilities. 

Why doesn’t the Town use the half million dollars to buy a building, renovate and sell it?

Taylor:  I agree.  Good development leads to more good development.  The Town must take on those buildings first that are in the worst condition.

Unity – get the civic clubs together to work on one project.  Also a public restroom.

Taylor:  Again, when the parking lot project was being looked at behind the farmers’ market, at one point the concept was to place a pubic restroom there.

Is eminent domain being investigated? 

Taylor:  This can be looked into but is a last resort.  You shouldn’t have one person shut down a process. 

Greer matched whatever the property owner was putting into a project. 

Taylor:  This is a wonderful concept. 

Other comments made by attendees:

  • We’re opening a Mexican restaurant in downtown in about two months with a patio in the back and on the side. Looking forward to doing our part to grow the downtown.
  • A lot of out-of-state people used to come here for car shows, but not in the past few years. That could be a big draw.
  • Downtown Greenville became a destination by doing a concert series, closed about two blocks, and about 10 p.m., law enforcement moves everyone out. We have to bring people to Winnsboro for a reason. 
  • Certain trees can make Main Street 10 degrees coolers.  There’s the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the bike trail has brought in a lot of money.  Have golf across from the new Mexican restaurant with $2 a bucket balls for kids.  There is incredible history in Winnsboro. 
  • If you make properties livable, it becomes a cycle. Then more people will do this.  Also, beautification can be done with trees, bushes and fountains.  We want more places to eat lunch, maybe a pizzeria.

Representative McDaniel said she was thrilled with the turnout for the meeting. 

“Town meetings are needed to see what the citizens want and what they would patronize,” McDaniel said. “With Scout coming, we need to be ready for any and all opportunities, like being sure our students are trained for these jobs. Let’s act as a committee of one and show ourselves working together. When communities fight with each other, that presents an opportunity for other communities to grab everything on the table.  We have a lot to offer,” she said. “I want to see the Town grow and the governments come together, to be proud of each other and grow as a community.” 

Thanking McDaniel for the infusion of the $500,000, McMeekin said, “It’s a new day, and we will take advantage in every way possible.”

“This is for all of us, and we have to have support from each other,” Chatman said.

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