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Jimmy Peden, right, updates Ninety Six Town Council on the status of volunteer town renovations efforts at Monday’s town council meeting.

NINETY SIX — It might take baby steps for Ninety Six’s government to move forward on plans to renovate the old Ninety Six Cotton Mill office building, meanwhile town volunteers have made great strides in improving downtown’s looks.

At Monday’s regular town council meeting, council member Bridget Porter made a motion to temporarily halt the town’s work with the Ninety Six Historical Society to repair the former mill building at 218 Duke St. The building is town property, and the town was working with the historical society as a nonprofit that could head fundraising efforts for the project.

Porter said because of ongoing issues at the site, she moved that the town stop pursuing this project for now. She said one quote gave an estimate of how much it would cost to remove lead and asbestos from the site, but it didn’t account for the costs of fixing and restoring utilities to the building. She also said the town had other projects it should focus its efforts and funds on.

“I understand Bridget’s reservations, but me personally, I think we should still keep moving forward,” Mayor Mike Rowe said.

Jennifer Donlon, president of the historical society, said she came to the meeting Monday to get answers on where the town stood on this project. She said she was poised to apply for multiple grants, but needed a solid estimate of the cost from the town. The building belongs to the town, and the historical society was willing to operate as a fundraising and grant-writing partner, she said.

A deadline had already passed for one of the grants Donlon was looking at by Monday’s meeting.

Porter’s motion received a tied vote, with Porter, council member Mickey Goodman and council member Charles Stevens voting to stop work for now, and Rowe, council member Kellar Rogers and council member Wayne Gibert voting against the motion. The motion failed because of the tied vote, and Rowe said the town would look into getting a more definitive assessment of the cost to renovate the building.

This year’s S.C. Festival of Stars was a success and brought in a profit of nearly $4,000, Goodman said. The town has been approved for about $15,000 in Greenwood County hospitality tax funds for next year’s festival, said Tourism Director Margie Blalock, but with no hospitality tax money for the planned bluegrass festival in the fall, town officials decided to hold off on starting the new annual festival.

Jimmy Peden, Connect Lake Greenwood chairman, has been leading volunteer efforts to beautify the town. He gave an update to council that since June 20, volunteers have trimmed, sprayed, edged and mulched multiple garden areas in town. This first phase of volunteer work will still include irrigation and lighting for gardens, but Peden said he expects the work to be done by early fall.

“Phase two is really talking about businesses and facades,” he said.

Once these gardens are finished, he said he wants to talk with the owners of vacant businesses in downtown to see about beautifying the main stretch of town. He’s stated some grant research but said the bulk of fundraising will start once the gardens are finished and people can see the fruits of these volunteers’ work.

He left the town with some good news about the Hardee’s that burned in 2019.

“I talked with Hardee’s,” he said. “I can say 97% positive they’re coming back and doing renovations.”

Ninety Six Mill Village resident Kim Crawford asked council about several houses that repeatedly violated municipal ordinances about lawn maintenance and property upkeep. She asked what could be done, besides continuing to have police fine these residents.

“For us, a ticket is a last resort here,” said Deira Collier, Ninety Six police public information officer. “We talk with them and we talk with them. We do all we’re allowed to do by law.”

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.