Blackville business owners begged to improve properties

First Byline: 
Laura McKenzie - Publsiher

Blackville Mayor Michael Beasley and the town's council members are begging business property owners to clean up and improve their properties. But if they don't, they are making plans to have it done and charge the business owners on their taxes.
"We have been talking about our downtown area for a number of years and it is time to take action," said Beasley during a community meeting Thursday, June 26. "We are having this meeting to hear your ideas and to come up with solutions."
But while invitations to last week's meeting were sent to all the property owners, only a few showed up.
Business property owners are being asked to come up with plans for improvements and bring them to a meeting August 4 at 6 p.m. in the Blackville Community Center.
Currently there are 59 businesses in the Town of Blackville with an additional 20 businesses having licenses to do work in the community, according to Blackville officials.
"We have buildings with the roofs falling in," said the mayor. "I'm not here to tear down anything. These buildings are a safety hazard and a liability to the town."
Beasley emphasized the need for a clean, beautiful business district. "When we don't have the tax base, the citizens have to pick up the tab (for services)," he said. He also noted that having a good-looking business district tends to draw more businesses to the area, improving the overall economy of the town.
He noted the last census indicated the town had lost 700 residents since the previous census count. "We have gone from 3,000 residents to just over 2,000 residents." The mayor said changes are needed if the town is to survive.
He also said when business and industrial prospects come to Blackville, "We need them to leave with a good impression."
Beasley, with the support of the council, is asking each business property owner to do their part. "Go back to your business and critique your business. Are you satisfied with your business? Take a look at the little things."
He said some of the improvements are as simple as a coat of paint, keeping the grounds mowed or trash picked up.
If not, the mayor and council indicated they will use code enforcement to achieve their goals.
The code gives the town authority to require improvements be made. A warning letter is sent to a property owners and "ample time" is given for improvements to made, explained Blackville Police officer Sgt. Chuck Stanley. "If no action is taken, then we have no choice but to take action."
The town council can direct to have the property cleaned up or improved and the bill sent to the owner with their property taxes. If the taxes and bill aren't paid, then the town can claim the property, indicated Mayor Beasley.
Copies of the code may be obtained from the Blackville Town Hall, said the mayor.
Sgt. Stanley said over 200 properties in the town have been identified as needing improvement and letters sent out. "Since then there have been some improvements."
"We're not here to hurt anybody," said Sgt. Stanley. "We will stand behind the mayor and council."
"Once we start code enforcement, we're not backtracking," stated Mayor Beasley.
Beasley and council members indicated that the code enforcement is truly not the track they want to take. "We need help." He said improvement of the town will take effort on everyone's part and if a business owner needs help then they need to contact the mayor and council to work on solutions.
He said the town received a Renaissance grant to improve four properties in town but, when the owners were mailed letters of the plan, "we received two letters back saying ‘Don't touch my house'. Beasley called those sort of situations "frustrating" because the improvements would have been paid for through the grant.
Several business owners attending the meeting voiced their opinions on improvements to the business district.
Miller's Bread Basket owner Ray Miller said, "As you well know, the only thing that keeps me alive is tourism. We are at a crossroads and we have a real opportunity here. If we make the little progresses, the big ones will come along."
Allen Harrison, town councilman and owner of Inlaw Contracting, said the town needs a nice place where "folks can have a nice meal and a drink - a glass of wine or beer." He said, "The minute someone wants to open a bar, it gets shot down." He noted that Aiken and other towns have nice restaurants that offer beer, wine and alcohol and are good draws to their communities.
Former Mayor Carroll Priester said her sister owns a business in town which is available for rent and, eventually, for sale. She said she supports the clean-up effort and code enforcement. "We have a chance here and we need to do something."
One business owner said when Aiken started with its revitalization efforts, it "started with the small mom and pop operations." The small improvements led to the larger improvements, she said.
Randy Pritchard said he has been working with the Shamrock project and hopes to have renderings next month for a possible open air pavilion concept for the property. The Shamrock is a former hotel along Blackville's main street that is now just a shell of brick walls - some of them crumbling and creating a safety hazard, according to the mayor. Efforts to restore and revitalize the historic property have been ongoing for decades with little progress.
Mayor Beasley said little things help and individuals can do a lot. He said he would be painting parking lane lines in front of the post office Friday morning, JUne 27, after talking with the postmaster and realizing the lines were faded. "Anyone who would like to help, I'll be there at 8 a.m.!"
He also said new solar-powered lights had been installed around the gazebo next to the community center. He said the town received a $22,000 grant to provide the lamps, tables, umbrellas and trash receptacles.
While these were only a few voices heard by the council and community members attending, Mayor Beasley said he hopes for a larger crowd in August and improvements to the town. "Let us know what we can do to help," he said.