Winnsboro receives second $500K for restoration of downtown

WINNSBORO – When Jason Taylor took the reins as Winnsboro Town Manager in mid-2021, his vision was for Winnsboro to realize its great potential through its five utility companies and restoration of its downtown.

Over the last two years, much groundwork has been laid for that vision.

With smart meters being installed for all water, gas and electric customers, a $440,000 grant to help renovate Fortune Springs Park, a $10M grant to improve and expand capacity of the town’s water plant, a joint project with the county to demolish and remove dilapidated and abandoned houses in the town proper as well as in the unincorporated areas of the town, and newly tightened code enforcement ordinances, the vision is unfolding.

The Town now has options on several empty, dilapidated buildings it hopes to renovate, including the vacant service station adjacent to the post office and a former dry cleaner building across the street from the service station as well as several other vacant buildings on Congress Street. Taylor is also eyeing a site for a downtown splash pad.

The vacant service station next to the post office. | Martha Ladd

However, such a vision requires money. Lots of money. With the help of State Representative Annie McDaniel, that money has stated to pour in.

Last October, McDaniel obtained a South Carolina state budget appropriation of $500,000, specifically for Winnsboro’s downtown revitalization.

In thanking McDaniel for her work to successfully get the town funding request through the legislature, Winnsboro Mayor John McMeekin said those funds would be used to jump start the town’s long-term goal of bringing a vibrant downtown back to Winnsboro.

Last month, McDaniel secured another $500,000 appropriation from the state, and Taylor plans to apply for a $750,000 CDBG grant.

“With $1.5 million, we can save some of these old buildings and get them to where they’re move-in ready for someone who wants to put a in restaurant or a retail shop but isn’t necessarily great at rehabbing a hundred-year-old building,” Taylor said. “They may not have the time or the resources to do that.”

Taylor said he’s been studying examples of other small towns like Camden and Newberry that have found success. Some very small mountain towns, he said, have “caught lightning in a bottle” by attracting the right kinds of restaurants, brewpubs, and boutique venues.

“We want to see Winnsboro as a vibrant community where people want to come live; where you can walk from your house to a wonderful shop or restaurant on Main Street; and where quality of life is improved for our citizens. We want a downtown that is vibrant, thriving and alive, and where people want to visit and want to live,” Taylor said.

“The first $500,000 was a great start,” he said. “But a million dollars will have a real impact that people will start to notice.”

He said about half the buildings in downtown are vacant or actually dilapidated.

“We’ve pulled maps, looked at every building in town, talked to building owners, and we have a landscape architect  – a downtown redesigner – who’s worked a lot in Charleston, and has a previous relationship with the county. We’re getting some preliminary ideas,” he said.

Sifting through a pile of maps of downtown on his desk, Taylor talks about how he and council can make the best impact with the money that is now flowing into the Town’s coffers.

“Streetscapes, which are nice and necessary for a successful restoration, are for now on the back burner. Initially, we need buildings that are viable to support businesses,” Taylor said. “You can put trees and sidewalks in town – and I love doing that kind of stuff – but if the buildings behind those trees and sidewalks are falling down, you haven’t done a whole lot to accomplish your goal. So, I think we need to begin where we can get a return for our money – buildings that are rehabbed and ready to go. But streetscapes are definitely on the drawing board.”

Taylor said many of the ideas for rehabbing the buildings in the town came out of the two town hall meetings the town government held in the spring.

Taylor said he would also like to see the back parking lot behind the farmer’s market building rehabbed.

“As the town improves and businesses move in we will need more parking space and the back lot is an ideal space,” he said. “It could also serve as a great space for certain events. The engineering for the lot is completed and all the building owners except one have granted easement permissions for the areas they own.”

While Taylor and council have a clear vision of what they would like to see for the town, they want the town’s residents to have the same clear view.

“A color rendition of how the town could look is in the works,” Taylor said. “I think when that’s completed is when it’s going to start getting exciting.”

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