Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Kingstree Town Councilman Bubba Hammet has defined the landscape of downtown Kingstree as a toothless old man. Hammet's candid portrayal of his hometown hit home when another building on Main Street became a victim of neglect. Heavy rains during the middle of May proved to be no match for the dilapidated structure at 116 Main Street. Front street windows reveal the splintered remains of a collapsed roof.
The property was the original home of Kingstree Hardware but for years has been vacant. In 2010, it was slated for demolition; however, the owner through a contractor appealed to Kingstree Town Council for an extension to start renovations. Council granted the extension but no substantive headway was made to secure the crumbling structure and in May after heavy rains, the roof collapsed. Bids are currently being sought for demolition.
The property is one of several that have met the same fate. A 2011, fire destroyed the former C. Tucker's department store on Main Street and with it memories of huge shoe sales that brought shoppers from all around. The damage from the fire also compromised the building beside it, which had to be demolished.
In January 2013, a vehicle crashed into a two-story building at the corner of Main St. and Academy St., causing severe structural damage. The owner has been given time to make appropriate repairs. The list goes on.
Kingstree is not alone: Across the state and the nation abandoned buildings pose safety concerns, place increased financial burden on local governments by requiring additional law enforcement and fire services, and can contribute to decreased property values - all of which contribute to lessen the revenue to the municipality. According to the New York Time, a task force in Detroit recommended the city spend at least $850 million to tear down 40,000 dilapidated buildings or restore tens of thousands more, and clear thousands of trash-packed lots. In addition $1 billion should be spent on its vacated factories. Tough choices, considering Detroit is the nation's largest bankrupt city.
Kingstree is not teetering on bankruptcy but the costs to address blighted buildings are still substantial. For example in 2010, the Town of Kingstree spent more than $28,000 on demolition of four properties. Over the past five years 21 dilapidated structures have been removed and 13 have been identified for demolition for FY 2015. According to Kingstree Community Planning and Development Director Alvin Chambers, the estimated cost to demolish unsafe structures between 2011 through 2013 was $63,328. However, estimated costs to include the buildings on 116 Main Street and 315 Railroad Avenue will take the total to over $100,000.
It's not that the administration isn't trying to curb the expense. Getting to the point of demolition is the end of a long legal process of notifications. Kingstree Mayor Ricky Burrows said funds have been allocated to provide owners incentives to fix up the fronts of their buildings.
The town will match up to $1,500 of the owner's expenses. There has been no response; however, Burrows said one businessman who heard about it is actively renovating two properties with another slated for renovation. “Nobody wants to see holes on Main Street or any other street,” said Burrows. “This incentive is a way to entice owners to clean up their fronts.”
However, there are examples of good stewardship. The owners are repairing five dilapidated structures and eight have some form of repair in progress. In addition, a recent ceremony took place on Hampton Avenue to celebrate the renovation of the former Belk building. Its fate in 2009 was headed for the chopping block but the property owners at that time were granted extensions. In 2010, the property was purchased by the Williamsburg County Development Corporation but within months of its purchase a freak storm destroyed all but the front portion of the building.
Last month, members of city and county government along with others celebrated a Topping Out ceremony marking what will ultimately house Williamsburg County Department of Social Services.
Other positive outcomes can be seen in the renovations of several buildings on Academy Street that currently house restaurants and shops, as well as a private home on Brooks Street. The home, known by the locals as the Logan House was on the verge of demolition but with council's approval, an extension provided the new owners time to resurrect the local landmark.
While many property owners have addressed the problem, there are others who have opposed any recommendations by the town, preferring to fight the process through legal means. Facing the daunting task of demolishing or renovating a building is expensive; however, there are ways to lessen the financial blow.
The Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act, signed into law in June 2013, provides taxpayers new incentives for rehabilitation, renovation, and redevelopment of abandoned buildings. The bill allows a taxpayer a credit of 25 percent of the actual rehabilitation expenses incurred at the building site. The bill includes a $500,000 individual cap on the tax credit benefit. In order to qualify for the credit a taxpayer must rehabilitate the abandoned building for commercial use as well as other requirements.
Since 2009, Kingstree Town Council has stepped up codes enforcement in an effort to halt further decay of its historic district while promoting accountability of its owners. In 2010, the codes were further refined and in May of this year council adopted stronger language: narrowing the ambiguity in an attempt to save a property before it is too late.
According to Chambers, the town is formalizing a task force to come up with solutions to correct the abandon buildings. Though the city as well as the county's issues concerning blight cannot be compared in financial terms to Detroit, the problem is just as real - and as important. Dan Gilbert, a business executive and leader of the Detroit blight task force was on point in his statement in The New York Times article. “Blight sucks the soul out of anyone who gets near it.”
There are a number of programs property owners can consider.
For more information about tax incentives to help with the costs of preserving historic buildings visit the SC Department of Archives & History, State Historic Preservation Office at www.shpo.sc.gov.
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