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Officials evaluate county

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By Johnathan Ryan

See Lancaster and partner organizations got a helping hand this week from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, based in Washington, D.C.

Two officials from the trust, Nick Kalogeresis and Kathy La Plante, both program officers, toured the county’s downtown areas and talked with residents who know the lay of the land here, such as politicians and business people, as well as those just hanging out on the streets on Monday and Tuesday.

They were interested in evaluating See Lancaster’s progress in the four main areas of the 2003 Charrette, such as economic development, organization, design and promotion.

“What we’re doing here is providing an assessment service,” Kalogeresis said. “We travel around the country doing this for many communities.”

See Lancaster Executive Director Frank Keel said they wanted to evaluate his group’s progress in each of the four areas and make recommendations that will further goals.

The two officials, whose organization is federally-funded and mandated, teamed up with S.C. Main Street Director Beppie LeGrand and Community Development Design Partners President Randy Wilson to analyze the four areas of importance. LeGrand was responsible for promotion, Wilson for design, Kalogeresis for economic development and La Plante for organization.

On Wednesday in Lancaster City Hall’s council chambers, the four presented a preliminary report to members of See Lancaster and other interested people, such as Heath Springs Mayor Ann Taylor and Kershaw Town Administrator Tony Starnes.

La Plante praised See Lancaster for the partnerships it has forged in the local area, such as with the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp., the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce and the Lancaster County Council of the Arts. “You have some really strong partnerships right now and should look at perhaps some other ones in the future,” La Plante said.

She also praised the quality of leadership she found in the county with regards to governing and enhancing downtown areas.“After that, everything else seems to fall in place,” La Plante said.But she warned against duplicate efforts among groups, which she found to be a concern from her interviews with local people.

She encouraged a strategic planning meeting in which the partners could come together and plan, staying within the “auspices of each organization,” and undertake a campaign to let the public know what each partner is responsible for.LeGrand praised See Lancaster’s effort in its efforts to inform the public of its events and goals with regular columns in the local press, newsletters and a new Web site with a community bulletin board.

She recommends more downtown events, perhaps in the form of music and festival series, to attract people downtown to see what is available.

“It would be advisable to have more series on a more consistent basis,” LeGrand said.

A market analysis for county downtown areas will be needed in the future, Kalogeresis said, to get a better understanding of what type of commercial offerings the area can support.

But he said he was pleased with the base of small businesses already in downtown Lancaster. Local officials should work “from the base” and support the growth of these businesses, hopefully spurring more in the process, he added.

He also said there is an existing base of space, especially in downtown Lancaster.

“We should reclaim some of that dead space,” he said, mentioning the parking lots in downtown Lancaster that could be used for building development.

Wilson said the county’s downtown areas have a nice collection of well-preserved historical buildings, and other hidden gems, such as those concealed by inappropriate decorum or just not in immediate sight.

Wilson said the final report will include whether Kershaw and Heath Springs should consider creating a historic district, with historic preservation ordinances.

“That is just something that will have to be analyzed based on the buildings there,” he said.The city of Lancaster approved similar measures in 2005.

Owning and redeveloping a historically-registered building in South Carolina could mean a 40 percent annual tax break for the owners, Wilson said.

The three-day property visit to Lancaster was paid by See Lancaster’s S.C. Main Street membership dues.“That is something we provide to our members,” LeGrand said.

Right now, there are 12 S.C. Main Street members.

The officials’ final report and recommendations will arrive in the next few weeks.

“We were very fortunate to have them with us this week,” Keel said.

Contact Johnathan Ryanat 416-8416 or jryan@thelancasternews.com