Nelson says purchase strengthens initiative

Mayor says buying the Belk Building will help with retail development

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The purchase of the Belk Building in Manning is part of the City of Manning's retail economics strategy in Manning implemented about a year and a half ago, Mayor Julia Nelson told The Sumter Item on Wednesday.

According to minutes of an April 6 called city council meeting, the purchase was approved at the time. A sales contract date, April 18, says the building was purchased for $325,000 from Wilson Rentals Market Bureau LLC of Manning.

"It was discussed in executive session, and we came out and voted in open session," Nelson said.

The mayor said that as city personnel became more knowledgeable in recruiting business to Manning, it became apparent the city needed more infrastructure to attract some businesses, especially retail.

"We were lacking anything to offer in Manning to help seal the deal," she said.

She said some companies have shown strong interest in Manning, but the town was beat out by offers from competing sites.

"Another state, Alabama, beat us out because they basically threw in the kitchen sink," Nelson said.

The Belk Building, reportedly the only free-standing building in Manning on the National Register of Historic Places, was built before 1919, according to former owner Bobby Wilson.

According to Wilson, the building was in a state of disrepair several years ago.

"The rain pushed part of the roof down and popped a pipe in the sprinkler system," Wilson told the Item in September 2014. He said one of the first things he had to do after purchasing the building was repair the roof to keep the building from suffering more damage.

Nelson said several people in the community had suggested the city purchase the building for its historical and cultural value, but at time the city was not interested.

After seeing companies pass Manning by for other locales, members of city council reconsidered buying the 34,000-square-foot building.

"The investment we are making is to try to keep downtown revitalized," Nelson said. "We have to have employment opportunities for our citizens. Basically, it was purchased to make our retail development initiative stronger."

She said the city has a tenant in the building on a month-to-month lease.

"If we have an opportunity, we can negotiate them leaving and another new business move in," Nelson said.

Nelson said at least one company continues to show a strong interest in occupying the building.