Aiken projects thrive despite weak economy

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AIKEN --- The economic situation across the country hasn't appeared to diminish the generosity of residents in Aiken County.

While fundraising efforts may have slowed a little, money is still coming in for three major projects -- the Aiken Railroad Depot, the African American Cultural Center and the Fort Gordon Fisher House.

Fisher House

The Aiken County Veterans Council has been working to raise funds for a 21-bedroom Fisher House.

The proposed 16,000-square-foot facility will be at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center off Wrightsboro Road, and construction will cost about $5.4 million. The community's portion is $1.8 million.

So far, the council has raised just under $800,000, said Judith Knight of the council.

In the past couple of weeks, the council has presented two donations totaling $100,000 to the building fund, and next month another check for about $5,000 will make its way into the coffers from the Denizens of the Deep.

"Every donation is important, whether it is a dollar or a thousand dollars or more," Ms. Knight said. "I am grateful to Team Fisher House for their hard work in securing donations. The team is grateful to the public."

Aiken Railroad Depot

In September, a groundbreaking ceremony for the Aiken Railroad Depot was held, culminating nine years of planning and more than a year of fundraising.

"We've come a long way," said Tim Simmons, chairman of the railroad committee. "We've still got a long way to go, but progress is being made slowly but surely."

The committee has raised more than $2.2 million of the $3 million needed to build a replica of the old Aiken Railroad Depot at Union Street and Park Avenue, which was demolished more than 50 years ago.

The money is enough to construct the shell of the building, but the committee needs additional funds to complete the project.

Steve Hale, a member of the committee, said fundraising efforts are tough right now, but he feels confident that once people see the building going up, more money will start coming in.

African American Center

Fundraising for The Center of African American History, Art and Culture has been slow.

The former Immanuel Institute, at the corner of York Street and Richland Avenue, is being renovated and will soon be home to the center.

The exterior of the facility is completed, but renovation on the structure's interior is proceeding as funding and volunteers are available.

The original budget called for $1.9 million to get the facility fully operational, but funding fell short of that goal.

Organizers and members of the Aiken Corp., which owns the property, have raised more than $1 million. More than $400,000 came from private donations and $360,000 came from the city of Aiken. Aiken County has provided $100,000.

The city's contribution comes from the accommodations tax, which is added to hotel room fees.

The most recent fundraising effort involves a book, a collaboration of local authors that chronicles the vital role blacks played in the development of Aiken County, starting with Reconstruction.

More than 300 copies of the book, which was released in August, have been sold, raising an additional $12,000.

Established in the 1890s by Presbyterian missionaries, the Immanuel Institute educated the children of former slaves.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395 or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com


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