Winnsboro Town Council member Bill Haslett wants a new direction for Winnsboro. Fed up with the run-down appearance of many buildings and resident apathy, the Winnsboro native has taken it upon himself to get together what he calls a “Visionary Committee” of concerned businesses, property owners and residents to help restore the downtown corridor.
“I have been approached by some interested visionaries in the community who are interested in moving Winnsboro forward,” Haslett told a group of 12 people last Tuesday at a meeting he called at the Town Clock. “I grew up here. I want this to be a town we can be proud of. One person may not have all the answers, but everyone together can make change.”
Haslett, who recently attended the yearly National Main Street Conference held in Baltimore, spoke about the tentative plans for renowned local artist Dru Blair, who has expressed an interest in starting an arts and culinary college in Winnsboro.
“I see the Dru Blair School of Art. He is looking at coming into the Fairfield Country Club, then expanding to Mt. Zion Institute,” said Haslett. “He expects to have 100 students in his first year here and 300 by year three, paying $25,000 yearly in tuition. His classrooms could be in vacant buildings on Main Street. The Savannah College of Art and Design has done it. We can do it here. I see this area as the art capital of South Carolina. Folks, you’re not going to know this town in three years from now.”
The cost of restoring the Mt. Zion Institute, vacant for more than 20 years, has been estimated by different accounts to be between $3 million and $6 million.
“Even if the art school can’t start out at Mt. Zion, there is a potential for it to be a huge draw for students and families,” said Cris Blair, Dru’s wife.
“Many people in the community are disengaged,” said downtown business owner Elfi Hacker. “We need to find a way to interact with each other. Our municipal government isn’t responsive. If you don’t have a town that is run on a basic level, it’s hard to get things going.”
“The Town is getting ready to adopt the International Property Maintenance Code, which requires building upkeep,” Haslett said. “We are going to put some teeth in this. We are going to hire somebody whose sole job is going to be to enforce the code.”
“This town has the ‘good ol’ boy’ system of ‘I won’t come down on you’,” Haslett continued. “Look at Ridgeway. The enthusiasm is catching. Towns are changed by citizens.”
“The arts can be the glue,” Hacker said. “Cooking, music, art, dance — it transcends politics, gender and race.”
“Downtown Winnsboro speaks of a blank canvas,” said Elizabeth Shults. “Different colleges could come together and form a university for art, sciences, a nursing program. Students can grow the food for a culinary arts program. The momentum is just starting, and it’s going to happen.”
“Jimmy Jones (CEO of Christ Central Ministries) is planning a master plan for downtown,” said Haslett. “He’s not in it for a profit, but to teach people a trade and move them along.”
According to their website, www.ccins.org, Christ Central is a Missions College that seeks to provide formal higher education leading to well-rounded discipleship. They currently offer a one-year certificate in Biblical studies, a one-year certificate in Missions Ministry, and a two-year Associate’s Degree in Missions Ministry.
The group will have a second meeting at the Town Clock today at 11 a.m. All are invited to attend and share their ideas.