Winnsboro residents share ideas for growth

About 75 citizens attended the town hall meeting. | Photos: Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – About 75 residents attended the second Winnsboro town government town hall type meeting to talk 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 Representative Annie McDaniel drove the discussion and fielded citizen’s questions

Like the first meeting, Chatman said, the second was held to gather ideas from the citizens of Winnsboro concerning revitalization of the Town.

While the audience was slightly smaller than the first audience, it was made up of almost entirely different people. Here are some of the ideas and questions put forth by the meeting attendees and answered by the panelists.

How do the citizens get access to the feedback from the prior meeting?

Taylor:  We have a list of 30-35 items from the last meeting that we will put online.  Some of those include:

  • Acquire and redo buildings in the downtown and get them ready to attract businesses
  • Construct a median on Main Street to make it a nicer and safer street space.  The current traffic and parking makes it unsafe and not very attractive. 
  •  Implement traffic toning devices, brick type plaza connecting the Town Clock and the Court House and other properties and then a planted median on each side.  Columbia has done this and has been very successful.  Plant trees and create a space that people want to be in without being hot. 
  • Protect what makes Winnsboro unique with its historic structures.  Council is starting to prepare and look at historic preservation ordinances to protect things that are worth saving.
  • Infrastructure is critical to the revitalization of the town.
  • Bring more restaurants to Winnsboro like the Olde Town Hall in Ridgeway
  • Need nice parks and green space.  Japanese pears were planted downtown, most of which died.  Those are being replaced with Ginkgos which will do much better. 
  • Promote Anchor events downtown, maybe seasonal events.  The armory is an attractive space that attracts people.  The Farmers’ Market is a wonderful downtown attraction. 

I heard in the news there is money available for revitalization.  Will these funds be used for just planning and what is the next step?

Taylor: 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.

(From previous meeting) 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 pare it with some of our own money. Right now, we are trying to decide how to most effectively use the $500,000.  We must invest in ourselves. 

What is being prioritized by the Town?  The Town has heard from the citizens, and now the citizens would like to hear from the Town. 

McDaniel:  What we want to see happen are things going downtown that will attract people, such as nice restaurants, maybe a rooftop entertainment place with activities for the youth.  The Town will make the ultimate decision.  Just as soon as we got this pot of money, then we found out about Scout.  The Town must get code enforcement and other things in place so it will be a Town that we want it to be and not what those from the outside want it to be. Put some things in place to make downtown revitalized.

McMeekin: We are getting support like we have never gotten before, and we are all working together.  The State is interested in us, and we are in a good spot right now.  It goes beyond just Winnsboro and is throughout the County. Two grants were just received, $10M to upgrade the water plant and $10M to build an interconnector line for sewer down Peach Road for industrial development. We want to be very careful and at the same time expedient. 

We are not a very well-paid area, and we need people from the outside bringing their money in. 

Taylor: This new utility grant money ($10M) coming in will help promote growth.  Franchise restaurants that might look at Winnsboro will be counting rooftops, and they will not consider coming here until we build our economic base.  Because of Scout coming to Blythewood, we are getting calls from residential developers, but we must provide utilities to support this growth.  The grant money for improvements to the Winnsboro water plant will allow the Town to treat a total of around 6M gallons whereas right now we can only treat 4M gallons.

Peach Road has a number of properties suitable for development, but all do not have utilities. The industrial park has less than 50,000 gallons of sewer capacity available at that park. Improvements to the Winnsboro plant will open up those areas and give about 500,000 gallons of sewer capacity to much of the industrial areas on Peach Road.  Hopefully, that will attract the industrial development to have paychecks coming into our area to support successful businesses in downtown and will help with residential development also. 

McMeekin: It goes back to return on investment. Blythewood is growing but does not have a downtown. We want to preserve what we have.  We have to create an environment for our kids to remain and have something to do. 

Wondering what the suggestions/plan was to bring activities to the community.  What about questionnaires or surveys? 

McDaniel: This is why we’re having the Town Hall meetings. We don’t know what everyone would want. Once the comments are pulled together, then a determination will be made. 

McMeekin: Right way to do this is getting input from the community and then determine what are the best options. It is difficult to get the word out. I keep in touch with the newspaper and WLTX was in town today. 

Will all the money be used for just Congress Street?  Basic needs of residents need to be met, including food and housing… need grocery stores in Town and affordable housing. Owners need to rehab buildings and possibly have co-worker spaces. Pop-up store fronts for seasonal businesses

Taylor: The intent of this $500,000 is to do something on Congress Street.  We can’t spread this money so thin that we won’t see a significant project.  We need to see something for the money that we can take to Rep. McDaniel and the legislature can see we were successful to hopefully get more money to do the next project. 

Go for the low-lying fruit, do the project that will have the biggest impact with the smallest expenditure. Some businesses on Main Street are really bad. Need to enforce getting these lots cleaned up from the front to the back.

Taylor: We have to address some of this with code enforcement. This is always difficult, and until recently, we didn’t have ordinances in place to tackle this like we should.  We have better ordinances now.  The State legislature, with the prompting of the Municipal Assn., passed legislation to give municipalities a lot more ability to go after variant properties. We can try to work with the landowner in a friendly way to get the building in good condition or a lot cleaned up, but if they don’t, we now have the ability to go in and do it ourselves. We can remediate a dangerous building, clean up a lot and then charge the owner back for the cost the Town incurs. If not paid, it can be attached to the taxes.

We have a code enforcement officer in place and meeting with landowners. We want to do this amicably, but we are able to take action now. Some houses have been given to the Town to take down. We have broken the cycle of letting properties get derelict and just sitting there.  Instead of allowing them to just be sold at the tax sale, we look at them, evaluate and if they need to be torn down, they are torn down resulting in a good clean lot. Then you have a piece of property with all the utilities there already. Right now, we have six lots that we would love to work with a developer to put six new houses on these lots.  With the buildings downtown, you must look elsewhere to see what has worked. We need speculative commercial space downtown, but some businesses don’t have six months to a year to put work into a building to get it ready. We need to take the risk and make it easier. Streetscapes and parks are great, but the buildings behind the trees need to look good too. 

What about broadband?

McDaniel: Regarding the internet, fiber was run in some areas and your house may have been missed. The SC Urban League is working with the School District to try to get internet via satellite instead of the fiber optic cable. For more information, contact me at (803)960-5782. 

Are you considering any type of subsidies or tax cuts for people to open small businesses on Main Street to help offset the cost?  

Mr. Taylor:  We are looking at subsidies such as very low rental rate. Our taxes are offset by the Local Option Sales Tax. We operate on utility revenue so we are somewhat limited in offering subsidies because of our utility bonds. The main thing the Town is looking at is to offer very low lease rates for a period of time until the business gets off its feet.  We are looking at the Bailey Bill, which would freeze taxes for those who redo buildings. Those types of things are being looked at to assist people who are willing to invest in the old buildings. 

Are you accepting written proposals from the citizens for ideas? 

Taylor: We do need a list of contractors when we have a project to be done that we can call. We need to know we will have a set price with these contractors.  This is critical. 

Comments from the audience

  • The downtown is the living room for your community and the way people perceive your community. When people move here, they always ride downtown to see what it looks like. The condition of downtown says a lot about the community. A lot has been done, and we are not the worst case situation. There’s a lot to build on. People shouldn’t be discouraged. Sometimes it takes a person who has the money to go in and do a really good project. Take a leap of faith and put some money into something. 
  • Winnsboro used to be a college town.  People traveled from all over the State to come here. Oldest City in South Carolina. We have a lot going for us. Any data collected on the Town, what people do, what they spend their money on. Would love to see the committee start to work on something.  Stick with Rock Around the Clock. We have the oldest Town Clock in the United States, make it pop.  People love to get outdoors and Fairfield County has a lot to offer. 
  • Came to Winnsboro because it’s beautiful and charming, despite the fact that there are some buildings that are in appalling condition. Please do something on Main Street to clean up and improve some of the buildings. People will come in if things look really nice. 

Chatman thanked everyone for their ideas.  The team will now get together and formulate a plan.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]