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Group works to fill downtown buildings


City officials have been planning and working for years to revitalize downtown Thomson. The most noticeable improvements were new sidewalks, streetlamps and landscaping, and relocating electric and telephone wires underground.

Then came the demolition of old buildings on Railroad Street that made way for the new government center, which is under construction.

But the new streetscape won't help if the buildings lining the streets are dilapidated and unoccupied. So, Camellia Partners for Heritage and Economic Development, Inc. has been working quietly behind the scenes to enhance what city officials are accomplishing.

Camellia Partners' first project was renovating the old Sun Trust Bank building on Main Street and starting up the McDuffie Museum there in 2008. Around that time, Camellia Partners donated some land behind buildings on Main Street that the city paved and made into parking lots.

On the north side of First Avenue, the parking lot frequently is used by customers of the museum, Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop, Platters and Thomson Twin Cinema.

The parking lot on the south side of First Avenue was used this past summer to hold a farmers' market every other weekend. It also is used by customers of H&R Block and Addie's Hair Care Beauty Salon.

Work began last spring to renovate the two empty buildings between H&R Block and Addie's and move some businesses into them.

"Our original plan was to clean up that whole block," said Bob Flanders, spokesperson for Camellia Partners. "The roof had fallen in on one of the buildings. And we took it over and tried to get all that straightened up. We cleaned up property lines in the back and made way for the parking area."

Last week, The McDuffie Mirror reported that the McDuffie Arts Council will move into the newly-painted green building that once housed the Sports Palace.

Arts Council Chairman Marion Ivey said volunteers will renovate the inside of the building and the art council will set up an art gallery and working studio by Christmas.

Camellia Partners is looking for someone who would like to buy or lease the other building that is located between the art gallery and the old Hughes building.

The front of the building, including the door, is made up of large display windows. The interior features a skylight that was added in the new roof after the old one caved in.

"It's great for anyone that wants high visibility because there's very high visibility on that street," Mr. Flanders said. "We'd be pleased to see anything in there that would lend itself to the presence of some more people in the downtown area."

Because the redeveloped buildings bring the prospect of more people, city officials are looking to complete a project that had been put on hold -- building a pavilion over the original town well.

The town's first well is located in the center of the new parking lot on the south side of First Avenue. It was intentionally left unpaved with plans of putting a pavilion there in the future.

"Once we get activity in those buildings, we will finish that spot off into a sitting pavilion," said Thomson City Administrator Don Powers.

"It will be a place for people to sit in the shade and get a drink of water, and it will have some sort of historical plaque that would tell about the city's original community well."

Although water can still be pumped out of the well, Mr. Powers said a water line to city water was installed when the parking lot was paved. A hand pump will be installed on the pavilion where visitors can simulate pumping water from the old well.

"We won't pretend to use the well water," Mr. Powers said. "We will just have a simulated pump there. It's there to accentuate the place where the old city well was."

Mr. Flanders could not say what project Camellia Partners has after the current ones are finished.

"We're going to get these projects rolling, and since the economy is not the best of times, we'll just see," he said. "But, it'll turn around eventually. A lot of stuff has happened. The problem is, change moves at a glacier pace. Planning, financing, luck, forward-looking people -- those are hard to come by these days."

Web posted on Thursday, September 23, 2010

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