Three words could summarize the focus of Orangeburg city and county officials in 2022: Downtown Orangeburg revitalization.

From the development and improvement of the Orangeburg Railroad Corner to repurposing of a former downtown bank building for a new city hall to the construction of a new Orangeburg County Courthouse, to Claflin University’s purchase of a historic downtown building, a buzz of activity was afoot with an eye toward improving Orangeburg’s downtown district.

These plans make downtown development and revitalization number 7 on The T&D’s list of the top 10 stories of 2022.

Railroad Corner

The City of Orangeburg chose Orangeburg University District Partners to develop the historic Railroad Corner.

City officials often refer to Railroad Corner as the gateway to the city. It’s located at the intersection of Russell, Magnolia and Boulevard streets.

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Plans call for reallocating building facades, foundations or materials in new ways that aim to maintain the sense of place and history, but provide the benefit of some new architecture.

The plans include adding four-story, mixed-use development with ground-floor commercial and upper-story residential.

The project will preserve the former State Theater building as a cultural space and potential museum, extend multifamily units along Treadwell Street and redevelop the former gas station into new commercial space.

Plans include the creation of walk-through opportunities with urban and plaza spaces combined with retail. Additional parking would be added on Treadwell Street.

The redevelopment recommendation would cost a total of $18.2 million, with an anticipated public investment of between $4.5 million and $5 million.

“What we envision is a project that will spur other development there in the downtown corridor that will serve as a catalyst,” said Larry Salley, chairman of the HBCU Community Development Action Coalition and principal of the OUDP during a September City Council meeting.

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“We really want to make this a comprehensive development that of course embodies the vision of revitalization that you all see for the community,” he said.

The group has had conversations with both Claflin University and South Carolina State University, which will have an ownership interest in the development of the corner.

Hopes are that ground will be broken on the project by the third quarter of 2023.

Columbia-based Mashburn Construction was hired as the general contractor for the $7 million project to upgrade the former First Citizens Bank building at Russell and Broughton streets and turn it into a new city hall.

City officials in the middle of December said they are awaiting a specific timeline for how the project will proceed.

Earlier in 2022, City Council voted to borrow and spend the money over the next 30 years. City officials have said there would be no tax increase for the first two years of the bond.

During the third year, the city’s millage rate would increase by 7.19 mills to pay for the borrowing. The cost would eventually increase to a high of 10.87 mills during the payment of the bond, according to city officials.

The impact on a $100,000 primary residence after two years would be a $28.70 property tax increase before increasing to a $43.48 property tax increase at the maximum annual amount, according to city officials.

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City officials hope the bond can be paid off with money obtained from the fifth round of the county’s capital project sales tax, which voters will be asked to approve in 2024. City officials are expecting voters to approve the referendum as they have done the previous four times it has come before them.

Councilmen Richard Stroman and Bernard Haire have expressed concerns about the project’s price tag and impact on taxpayers. Specific concerns were related to the development of a third floor and a rooftop terrace as well as spending that amount of money on an older building.

According to Mashburn’s website, the company has worked on a number of municipal projects such as the Chapin Town Hall, the Clarendon County Courthouse, and the Town of Kingstree’s fire and police station.

Orangeburg County Courthouse

Orangeburg County announced in February it is beginning to plan for the construction of a new courthouse.

The county purchased 2.32 acres at 1480 Russell St. for about $675,000 for the placement of the new courthouse.

The property was formerly owned by Chan Holman of Woody’s Pawn and Jewelry. At one time, there were plans to move the pawn shop to the location. Those plans never materialized.

The building formerly housed a Winn-Dixie grocery store, which closed in June 1997.

Currently, county officials say engineers are doing the due diligence on the property with plans to soon embark on the architectural and design portion of the project.

County officials also say the courthouse is too small to meet community needs.

It has one large courtroom and several smaller ones. Officials say the building needs at least six large courtrooms.

The courthouse was built in 1928 and county officials say the building has extended past its useful life.

Based on recent courthouse projects in Florence and Dorchester counties, the cost of a new courthouse would be anywhere from $30 million to $50 million, according to county officials.

Payment plans include a $3 million general-obligation bond to do due diligence on the property and purchase the land.

The bond would be for about 15 years with a 3% interest rate. It would increase the county’s maximum annual debt service to $4.8 million.

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The county is considering paying for construction through an installment revenue purchase bond, which will allow the county to pay down the bond debt with $1 million installment payments rather than in a lump payment of $50 million.

County officials say by going the route of the installment revenue purchase bond, there should not be a tax increase as the county’s industrial growth would help to cover the debt service payment through the fee-in-lieu of taxes. Most fee-in-lieu payments are between $200,000 and $300,000 annually.

County officials say the bond could also be paid back with proceeds received from the fifth round of the 1 percent capital projects sales tax if voters approve the fifth round in a referendum. The fifth round will come before voters most likely in the 2024 general election.

Claflin plans to improve building

Claflin University received $3 million in federal funds to improve the Way Building on Memorial Plaza to turn it into the Claflin University Downtown Community Center.

It will house the Claflin University Center for Social Justice, Pathway from Prison program, young professionals’ studio housing and a business incubator site.

The building, which is located at Russell Street and Church Street, could also house some retail.

A timeline on the project was not immediately available.

Orangeburg County earlier this year deeded the property over to the university with an arrangement between the county and the university on the future use of the property.

The Way Building on Memorial Plaza formerly housed S.H. Kress & Company.

In February 1960, Black students at then-South Carolina State College and then-Claflin College — both are now universities — heard about efforts to integrate lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C. They were inspired to do the same in Orangeburg.

When local students were turned away from the Kress lunch counter in Orangeburg, they began a series of sit-ins. Kress then closed its lunch counter. Other downtown store owners reacted in similar fashion.

The Way Property Company Inc. eventually purchased the 31,000-square-foot building.

Way Property Company LLC offered the property — as is — to Orangeburg County for $10 in 2012.

Orangeburg County then entered into an agreement with the Shuler Group Inc. for the property in July 2017. The Shuler Group had plans for the building that never materialized.

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