Lucas Vance Staff Writer
November 10, 2013
WINNSBORO — Winnsboro Town Council has postponed its decision concerning what to do with the historic Mt. Zion building, but is hopeful to announce a decision in the next 10 days.
Town Hall was filled to capacity — and even overflowed into the hallways — with supporters of the citizen group Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI) at Tuesday’s town council meeting.
After nearly an hour and half behind closed doors, council did not make any motion after an executive session. Mayor Roger Gaddy said there would be a work session — with an executive session — in the next seven to 10 days concerning Mt. Zion.
“Hopefully we will have a decision and a proposal we could present at that time,” Gaddy stated. “We’ve been dealing with this issue for a long time and we’re ready for it to be resolved.”
When asked what specifically council needed to clarify before making a decision, Gaddy said council did not want to take a vote or make any decisions without the presence of two council members (Stan Klaus and Danny Miller).
“We don’t want to make a decision on something so important with the input of just three of us,” he noted. “I think with the importance of this situation, we should have adequate representation of everyone.”
FOMZI supporters held the majority of the 11 people who signed up for public comment to save Mt. Zion from the wrecking ball. The citizen’s group has requested council to give them an opportunity to save the building and revitalize its use in the community.
Fairfield County Museum director Pelham Lyles has been a long time supporter of FOMZI and wishes to preserve a central piece of Winnsboro’s history.
“I don’t want to be a part of the generation that lets Mt. Zion go,” she said.
Richard Burke, a developer from Columbia, noted that buildings he has worked on have been in much worse shape than Mt. Zion and believes renovating the historic building is a golden opportunity for Winnsboro.
“There is an asset in that building (Mt. Zion) even though you’re (council) thinking of it as a liability,” he said. “Growth will come this way if you save the building. If you give these guys (FOMZI) a chance to save the building I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”
Citizen Pam Smith owns three properties in the Mt. Zion area and thinks the old school needs to be saved. She believes that several council members would like to save the building, because during the past election they said they would like to save the building if they could.
“One of Fairfield County’s best assets is its history and we should embrace that by giving FOMZI three years just like you did Red Clay,” Smith mentioned. “If you tear it down it will never be again.”
She noted that Red Clay did not have the money or resources to renovate the building and reminded council that FOMZI has both. According to FOMZI’s chairwoman Vicki Dodds, the group has $60,000 and also $15,000 in pledges.
Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce president Terry Vickers has been a behind the scenes supporter of FOMZI and said that they are warranted a try to save the build ling because they have raised the money. Vickers also advised council of the possibility for the Blair College of Art to move into the building once renovations are complete.
“Where there is a college, there are businesses to support the students,” she said. “When local businesses benefit then Winnsboro will benefit in a quality of life in our community. This is a golden opportunity to come along in Winnsboro and there is an army of dedicated citizens willing to move forward. Everybody else has had an opportunity. Why not give them a chance?”
FOMZI board member Brenda Miller read a statement from Dru Blair to kick off her public comment.
“I refuse to abandon my support for Mt. Zion because I prefer it to be saved,” Blair wrote in a letter. “I have maintained my position to support FOMZI despite pressure on me and my staff from other parties to do so.”
Miller noted that the Winnsboro community already embodies three factors mentioned in an impact study done in 2012.
• Recreation for retirement destinations adjacent to an abundance of natural resources
• Historic downtown or prominent cultural or heritage assets
• Adjacent to a metropolitan area or an interstate highway
According to Miller, the fourth and final factor that would ensure Winnsboro’s success is to have or be next to a college campus — i.e. the prospect of bringing Dru Blair’s school of art to Winnsboro.
When it comes to selecting a company or developer, Miller advised council to look no further than Huss Inc. She recently took a tour with a Huss manager through the Mt. Zion building.
“This group did such a great job with the Town Clock and would be a good place to start,” Miller noted.
Chuck Herrin was the last speaker. Herrin, who bought the old Greenbrier school, offered to give the town or FOMZI $26,000 of aluminum which he bought for tooling as a one-time use in his building.
He pleaded with council to consider the option of allowing FOMZI to revitalize Mt. Zion before demolishing the historic site.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” Herring said. “But if it (Mt. Zion) is gone then it is gone forever.”
Following the final public comment, Gaddy thanked each speaker for their conciseness and involvement.
“We (council) look forward to making a decision and the possibility of working with the groups,” he stated.