JOHNSTON, S.C. -- When Mayor Dean Campbell looked at the old cotton warehouse beside the railroad tracks, he saw much more than century-old bricks and decaying wood.
He saw the chance to return a little hustle and bustle to an area needing sprucing up.
"We really wanted to make it a thriving part of downtown again," Mr. Campbell said.
The town council began discussing revitalization two years ago and eventually asked owners of the old warehouse to donate it to the city. The Edwards family obliged, paving the way for a $775,000 project largely financed by state grants.
"We're really giving the town a face-lift," Mr. Campbell said.
Construction workers started gutting the 100-year-old building, a landmark on Calhoun Street, two weeks ago. They are redoing some brick work, adding a new roof and renovating its interior.
The structure was built to store cotton, so the interior is divided into three sections to prevent all the cotton from being lost in case of fire, Mr. Campbell said.
Both end sections eventually will be businesses -- maybe. And the middle section will be the new home of Mobley Library. The tiny library is moving a few blocks over from its 400-square-foot location on Academy Street to the 4,000-square-foot space in the Edwards Building.
"It will be 10 times bigger, with more computers, books and services," Mr. Campbell said. "The facility has evolved from a place that warehoused cotton to a place that will warehouse knowledge."
Mary Jo Dawson, director of the Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library System, said she's proud of the city for taking the initiative to expand the library.
"A library says a lot about a city, and I think the fact that the city is expanding the library speaks very highly of the community," she said.
Besides renovation of the Edwards Building, the town is working on a streetscape project to bring a historical feel to downtown. Construction began last week on a new sidewalk, and antique street lights are being added along the railroad side of Calhoun Street.
Downtown electrical wiring is being placed underground, and traffic lights will be placed on mast heads.
"The streetscape and underground wiring will give us an historic look, reflecting our tradition as a progressive small town," the mayor said.
Mr. Campbell began asking for grant money to pay for the project two years ago. The town received two state grants totaling about $400,000. The rest came from the town and Aiken Electric Cooperative.
Both projects are expected to be finished by November.
"I believe downtown is everybody's neighborhood. So if we fix it up, we're helping everybody," Mr. Campbell said.
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.
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