Owner, county work on plan for mill property

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CLEARWATER --- It's going to cost money to turn the old Clearwater Finishing Plant from an eyesore to a picturesque focal point.

The mill's owners and the county must work together to revamp the old plant, which has been closed for years and is now a target for vandals and thieves.

Owner B.J. Tharpe said he's willing to work with the county to tie in Clearwater Finishing with the affordable housing planned for the old Seminole Mills property next door.

Last week, he and county officials heard proposals from members of the Urban Land Institute of South Carolina, who said that the project will take money, cooperation and time -- and lots of all three.

The panel -- made up of a developer, a lawyer, a nonprofit executive director and a planner from Charleston -- said a mixed-use development on the property is likely the best use, as residents have said.

The plant on U.S. Highway 1 in Clearwater is in a great location for business, retail and residences, said Ken Seeger, a community development and land manager.

But there are some challenges: the property's environmental situation, its current condition, a slower economy, declining population and current market perception.

The buildings are also overwhelming the property, he said.

"It's a huge plant," Mr. Seeger said during the presentation Wednesday. "It was originally 800,000 square feet. That's the size of a regional mall, if you think of it in those terms."

Mr. Seeger said finding a financial backer could hamper efforts to revitalize the plant property. The current economy also might delay work, he said.

Mr. Tharpe said he wants to try, and he praised the suggestions the panel made.

"I've been preaching that," he said. "This is a slow process, but you'll get there."

Others hope so, too.

A committee made up of county councilwoman LaWana McKenzie, water and sewer commissioners and local residents met Tuesday, also to discuss the plant with the panel.

They said that any positive development would be a boon for the Clearwater community.

It would also stop the vandalism and thefts. Recently, firefighters spent a weekend putting out a fire, and another was set by arsonists a couple of weeks before.

A fire at Seminole Mills years ago left burned-out buildings and a mess that took weeks to clean up last year.

"The citizens can't afford to have that place burn down like Seminole Mills did," said Larry Murphy, a Clearwater resident.

Ms. McKenzie said she hopes the development will be a positive step for Clearwater.

"Whatever happens, we believe it can be a catalyst on U.S. 1," she said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.


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