AIKEN -- Separate projects to fill the downtown area with apartments are in the works.
The Aiken Corp. last week agreed to offer $5,000 grants per unit to owners willing to convert empty space into apartments. The first taker for one of the grants is readying a single-unit apartment on Park Avenue.
Inquiries from two to three other property owners have been made with the possibility that second-floor space on Laurens Street could become apartments, said Pat Cunning, chairman of the housing committee for Aiken Corp.
"I think we're going to start seeing some successes here," Mr. Cunning said.
On another front, progress has been slow but the city expects within two to three weeks to close a land deal with C.E. Parker that will clear the way for a long-term project to build a multiple-apartment development.
Mr. Parker owns Parker's Body Shop on Laurens Street and plans to move his business to a new location on Aiken's south side.
"We are assembling the land and will remove the building. Then we'll put the project out for bids from developers," said Leasa Segura, special projects coordinator for Aiken.
The city is paying about $295,000 for the land, Ms. Segura said.
"I told Pat (Cunning) it would take four months to get everything done and I'm moved," Mr. Parker said Friday.
The main holdup has been waiting for attorneys to review the paperwork on the deal, Ms. Segura said.
But anyone expecting a quick turn of earth by bulldozers will still have months to wait on this project.
Ms. Segura said it could take six months to review bids and reach agreement on which developer and what shape the apartment development will take.
Initial design plans have included a range of ideas from an eight-unit development with underground parking to a three-story development with about 40 units.
Rents are expected to be about $450 for a one-bedroom apartment or from $600 to $800 for two bedrooms.
"It would be very premature to say what the design will be," Ms. Segura said. "It's really the developer's call."
The project could be completed solely by the developer or jointly with the Aiken Corp. and city as partners, she said.
In March, Aiken City Council approved a $350,000 grant for the Aiken Corp. to buy land for parking spaces and possibly the upscale apartment development.
Whoever takes on the project after the land is bought could still face a maximum payout of another $300,000 for demolition of existing buildings, cleanup, streetscape work and other improvements.
The city is preparing a cleared lot on Laurens Street, adjacent to Mr. Parker's shop, for 21 parking spaces. Officials are in discussions with area property owners about plans for landscaping the area and maybe applying fresh coats of paint to buildings.
"I see it as very positive," Mayor Fred Cavanaugh said. "If we get some upscale apartments in that area in whatever number, eight, 10 or 12, that will go a long way toward getting more people into the downtown area."
Ms. Segura said the money for the $5,000 grants comes from the city's sale of land at the corner of Richland Avenue and Chesterfield Street where the new Chamber of Commerce building is going up.
The $5,000 grants will help fill in the gap between what banks loan to property owners and actual costs of development or remodeling.
Smaller grants are available for owners who want to work with architects to visualize the possibilities of converting space into apartments, Ms. Segura said.