Decisions on Mt. Zion in limbo

Lucas Vance Staff Writer

October 20, 2013

WINNSBORO — Public outcry from citizens and the special interest group Friends of Mt. Zion Institute filled town hall on Oct. 15 in hopes of saving the historic Mt. Zion building from the wrecking ball.

Former councilman Bill Haslett is in favor of keeping Mt. Zion and does not want to see a part of Winnsboro’s history torn down.

“Revitalizing Mt. Zion is something I’ve pushed for for a long time,” Haslett stated. “My support of Mt. Zion is real and I would like to see the town reconsider a decision to tear it down.”

Frustrated by little to zero progress during the three years that Red Clay Development owned the building, Haslett said the town had to pay Red Clay an unspecified amount just to receive the deed to the building back after Red Clay threatened to sue.

In 2006, the town accepted the property from the Mt. Zion Society along with a $108,000 cash receipt.

Haslett asked the question, “Where was that money and how come it was not being used to renovate the building?”

During a work session in September between FOMZI and town council, the town staff prepared a time-line outlining the town’s efforts to promote the development of the property. The outline also noted that the town has spent well over $100,000 in hours devoted to town council, town staff (labor costs), town attorneys (legal fees) and town planning commission members.

Council has questioned the ability of Friends of Mt. Zion Institute to mount an effective campaign to save Mt. Zion. But FOMZI board member Brenda Miller asked council to keep in mind that FOMZI has not been given an opportunity to even try.

With Red Clay gone, Miller referenced three questions including: Is there a plan? Can that plan be implemented? And who will pay for restoration?

“If you give us a chance, we can transform the appearance of the classroom building in six months,” Miller responded.

She referenced three developers interested in the Mt. Zion project as well as developer Richard Burts who has agreed to be a mentor and adviser for the revitalization of Mt. Zion.

In May, Burts was surprised with the Preservation Leadership Award, which is given to someone who contributes to the advancement of history preservation in the region.

Burts risked $7 million in 2006 to transform the Olympia Mill Village community center into 701 Whaley, which is now one of the city’s premier arts and events center.

Huss Inc. recently restored the Town Clock, and is one of three developers interested that also includes S & K Contractors and Southerland Construction.

Miller believes that artist Dru Blair can be the savior for Mt. Zion and Winnsboro.

In a statement of intent, Dru Blair wrote: “The Blair College of Art expects to establish a presence in or around the vicinity of Winnsbor within the next two years. The anticipated growth of the college is expected to exceed the available space in downtown Winnsboro within four years of opening. The art college intends to occupy the Mt. Zion campus as soon as its student body reaches 500 students.”

Miller asked for two-year control over Mt. Zion and said FOMZI would even concede control if progress was not up to par.

“We will begin working immediately to bring the street appearance in compliance with local ordinances,” she noted. “If you don’t see a visible change in six months we (FOMZI) will not protest the demolition.”

Council did not take any action regarding Mt. Zion following an executive session and announced FOMZI’s presentation would be accepted as information.