New plans for historic Aiken Hospital divide city

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Monday, June 10th, 2019 / News 12 at 11 o'clock

AIKEN, SC (WRDW/WAGT) - A hotel, apartments, and much more could be coming to the site of the Old Hospital Complex in Aiken.

But some neighbors are pushing back, since the plans allow the developer to tear the historic building down.

Aiken leaders envision this development being their own version of the Crowne Plaza in North Augusta, or Hyatt Place across the river in Augusta.

Aiken leaders think it'll be a huge asset, but neighbors who aren't ready to say goodbye to a building that's been there for generations have other ideas.

Tonight, neighbors' voices rang out as one against what could be the largest investment in Aiken in the last 20 years.

"We're very excited. It's more than a hotel--it's a meeting space. And apartments," said Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon.

"First and foremost would be the preservation of the hospital," contended Charlotte Wiedenman, who is the president of the Historic Aiken Foundation.

City council passed first reading of a plan tonight that would allow WTC Investments, owned by Weldon and Tom Wyatt, to build at the old Aiken Hospital site.

"I don't think it'll take away from anything we got going on here, but I think it'll add to some things we're missing out on--maybe that some go across the river for," said Osbon.

The only problem is that plans for a 125,000 square foot hotel and 150 apartments means the old hospital coming down.

"Once we lose our cultural resource--it's gone. And those little bits speak to who we are, and who our past is," Wiedenman said.

Wiedenman adds, buildings like this one are irreplaceable.

"Definitely put the brakes on the concept plan,"she said, when asked what she'd like to see the city do.

She wants the city to find a way to get what they want and keep the building--pointing to areas like Augusta--where old mills with similar structures have been redeveloped.

"This--what they're planning--has nothing to do with Aiken. This could be a gateway to any town in South Carolina or the Southeast," said Michael Bedenbaugh, who is with Preservation South Carolina.

His organization is a statewide one getting involved to help fight for the property alongside locals.

To them, it's the character of Aiken that's more important.

"I was born in that building too, so I have to say I'm sentimentally attached to it also. But the fact is, it's been abandoned for 5 years," Osbon said.

That abandonment the mayor talked about has created a whole host of issues. In addition to vagrant problems, the structure of the building itself could be beyond repair. There's no steel, only brick and mortar inside.

Historic preservation activists are not convinced though.

Bedenbaugh told News 12, with his organization trying to get involved, they've got potential developers lined up outside Aiken who could do the job as is without tearing a single brick down.

They have not shared any plans yet, however. So the question becomes--can a balance be found?