Work begins on restoration of downtown Winnsboro

Interim Town Manager Chris Clauson, Town Manager Jason Taylor and Electric Dept. Director William Medlin check out the restoration progress of the Douglas Building that began last week. | Town of Winnsboro

WINNSBORO – With almost $2 million in state earmarks flowing in for the revitalization of downtown Winnsboro over the last two years, the restoration work has begun in earnest.

Last week, Town Manager Jason Taylor and his newly named Interim successor Chris Clauson were on hand to witness workers on scaffolding tearing out decayed sections on the façade of the Douglas Building at 126 N. Congress Street.

“The goal with this building is to totally restore the façade, and then go in and bring the inside up to move-in ready so that we can lease or sell it,” Taylor says. “It’s not going to be quick, but we want to do it right so that it can set the standard for other restorations along the street.”

Taylor, who has taken the job as Town Manager in Newberry effective July 1, estimates it will take two to three months just to restore the front windows and six months to finish the building, inside and out. Even though he is leaving, Taylor says he wants to see the restoration of downtown Winnsboro come to fruition. It’s a project he envisioned when he took over as town manager three years ago.

“That’s specialty work,” Taylor says, referencing the windowed façade of the 6,654 square foot, two story building. “We have a contractor out of Raleigh who specializes in restoration of store fronts.”

The Douglas building was part of a five-property, $275,000 real estate package that the Town is purchasing. They closed on the Douglas building two weeks ago, according to Clauson.

Also included in the five-property purchase are the former Chamber of Commerce building at 120 N. Congress Street, the former Gulf service station at 100 E. College Street (across from the post office), and two empty commercial lots – one behind Speedy Wok and one next door to Speedy Wok.

120 N. Congress Street

The Town is also purchasing a building at 201 N. Congress that previously housed a dry cleaning business.

“That property is contaminated, so we’re waiting on DHEC (the Department of Health and Environmental Control) to approve a Voluntary Cleanup Agreement,” Clauson says. “It should close soon.”

100 E. College Street

The Town purchased the burned out Thespian Hall behind the town clock on E. Washington Street in January, and by resolution, town council is proceeding with a ‘taking’ of the building at 115 N. Congress Street (next door to the Wells Fargo building). That building has a collapsed roof.

“It’s coming together as far as the acquisition of properties,” Taylor says. “While the town has a lot of needs, this $2 million is earmarked for downtown revitalization and has to be spent on downtown revitalization, nothing else. We’re very fortunate to have gotten this money. Many of our downtown buildings are in such bad condition that it would be cost prohibitive for someone wanting to open a business to come in and restore one of these buildings.”

Taylor says that’s why the Town is going ahead and purchasing these buildings and restoring them.

201 N. Congress St.

“We want to restore them appropriately, do the facades as they should be done and then go in and restore the interiors,” Taylor says.  “Whether the interior needs are mechanical, heat and air, or electrical, we’re going to make them move-in ready so we can use these buildings as an incentive to pull in more businesses for the town.

“If we can demonstrate that we have quality buildings downtown that make it financially viable for someone to open a business, then I think that will be a model for more revitalization,” he said.

“This is the same strategy that other towns have employed after strip malls and such have come in and ruined the character of their communities. Rock Hill was once in our same situation but worse. The Town bought all but one of the town’s downtown buildings and restored them,” Taylor says. “Rock Hill is the poster child of what can be done in this regard.”

Taylor says the Douglas building, with three bays, is in reasonably good shape other than cosmetically.

126 N. Congress St. | Photos: Barbara Ball

“When it’s finished, it will make an immediate impact on the appearance of downtown,” Taylor says. “Our willingness to invest in our downtown gives the private sector investors a certain comfort level. They see we’re spending $2 million to get rid of the blight in the downtown and they become interested in the town.”

Clauson, like Taylor, is excited about the outlook for Winnsboro.

“It’s taken longer than anticipated to get started, but it’s now moving forward,” Clauson said. “These first projects are publicly funded, but I expect that we’re going to see more development efforts from private investors such as what Webb Yongue and Capstone Property Group are doing with the former Wells Fargo bank building.”

Capstone plans to revitalize the bank building with four upscale apartments on the second floor and possibly a restaurant on the ground floor.

The group also purchased the 64-acre former country club campus on Columbia Road in April and plan to have it fully renovated by the fall as an event venue and hotel with a commercial kitchen and restaurant.

“This is all very exciting for Winnsboro,” Clauson said, “and I anticipate the town is going to be attracting more investment like this in the future.”

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