City of Aiken's plan to purchase 'spec' building to draw debate

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News 12 First at Five / Friday, Apr. 8, 2013

Aiken City Council

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- It's a 30,000 square foot building in North Aiken. In 2003, it was built to bring a big manufacturer, or some kind of company, to town, but for the past ten years, it's sat empty in the Willow Run Industrial Park.

"This is Aiken's boondoggle," says activist Debbie Nix of 'We the People' in Aiken.

Nix owns a business across the street from the building. In 2003, the Aiken Corporation, which is a quasi-government arm of city's government, got a grant to build it and hopefully attract a buyer. After ten years of fishing, they still haven't reeled one in.

"So the city's going to step in, and they're going to purchase -- just the purchase price -- almost three-quarters of a million dollars, and they've not even talked about the renovation costs," says Nix.

Right now, the building isn't secure. From the open doorway you can see a dirt floor, rusted rafters, even weeds sprouting up from the floor.

"This is a huge bailout," says Nix. "This is probably the largest I've seen so far."

City Councilman Reggie Ebner, District 4, tells News 12 he won't support the purchase.

"As I am talking to you now, I can not go along with that approval," he says.

He says the $2 million of Capital Project Sales Tax II (CSPT) should go to something more worthy that's higher on the list of proposed city projects.

"I don't think it's appropriate now for the city to buy the property until we look at all the things we need to do for the next 25 or 50 years," Ebner says.

In the building, the City of Aiken would rent space to the Boys and Girls Club and the Area Council on Aging. The city would also possibly build weight-rooms and practice fields for the public, but Ebner and Nix still question how this purchase can be made with voter-approved sales tax money.

The city memo reads: "We believe we can develop a shared-use Memorandum of Understanding where the city can purchase this property, develop practice fields outside, install a reception area and weight room inside, and provide useful programming and office space to house all three entities under one roof."

"Everyone should be concerned," says Nix.

Councilman Dick Dewar says he has more questions than answers too. Councilwoman Lessie Price also has questions and concerns about the $782,375 price-tag.

However, Councilwoman Gail Diggs says it'll be good for the area. News 12 reached out to City Manager Richard Pearce via phone but didn't hear back before deadline.

At Monday night's meeting, City Council will also be talking about erosion at Hitchcock Woods and the possibility of spending sales tax money to improve the municipal building.

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