Officials agree: “Pelzer is a unique place with a lot of potential”

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By David Meade

Members of the Pelzer Heritage Commission were joined by three members of Pelzer Town Council, representatives of Anderson County and members of Anderson County’s Legislative Delegation for an information meeting with two valuable state resources on tourism and economic development. Amy Blinson of SC Parks, Recreation and Tourism, (SCPRT) and Jill Francisco of the SC Department of Commerce offered information on grants and other resources that may be available to help with Pelzer Mills Properties and the Town of Pelzer.

Pelzer Heritage Commission Vice President Larry Coker gave a brief presentation on grants and projects the PHC is currently working on and introduced the two speakers.

Grants and projects underway include a $400,000 EPA cleanup grant for the former mill dump site and Overlook Park; $100,000 Duke Energy grant to Anderson County for a Kayak launch at Timmerman Park (which adjoins the dump property); $250,000 grant for cleanup on the lower mill property and a $60,000 grant through Anderson County cleanup of asbestos and lead paint in the old mill office building.

Jill Francisco spoke about various grants available through the SC Department of Commerce including Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and Appalachian Regional Council grants.

She explained how different grants could be used, some for construction projects and others for non-construction projects, and corresponding fund matches required.

Francisco also explained application cycles and how the funding is awarded.

There are Federal and State grants available but they do require local governments as applicants as opposed to non-profit groups such as the Pelzer Heritage Commission.

Amy Blinson explained tourism and recreaion programs and grants that are available to applicants through SCPRT.

She explained Parks and Recreation Development (PARD) grants for small projects which are administered to municipalities within each county based on the recommendations of the county legislative delegation.

She explained Recreation Trails Program (RTP) which are federal grants available to states for recreation and trails programs.

The funds can be used to develop multi-use trails, connections to bigger trails and blueways. Those funds are available to non-profit and local governments and require a twenty percent match, she said.

There are Land and Water Conservation Fund grants through National Water and Parks available for acquisition or development of land for public outdoor recreational facilities.

According to Blinson, the funds are not available for gyms and senior centers or buildings, but are for green projects such as tennis courts, ballfields and parks. Non-profits are not eligible. Grants must be used on publicaly owned properties. They also come with federal restrictions and land acreage requirements, she said. They require a 50-50 match.

Blinson spoke on several tourism related grants that are availalble including the new Undiscovered SC grant program which is to help develop tourism in more rural areas.

The grants are available for unique public owned places and can be used for construction activites such as building or expanding facilities. A new arena at the horse park in Camden and the Sumter Opera House are examples of how the funds can be used.

She also said there is a new Sports Tourism Star Grant to help attract new tournaments and sporting events to the state.

There are other marketing programs available that are destination specific and tourism related.

“You have undeveloped potential here and it is easy to get here,” she said. “There is such tourism potential here. Preserve what you’ve got, bring in restaurants and shops and have something to look at so they will want to spend the night.”

She suggested Bed and Breakfast and where visitors can stay and “go to the show” referring to the success of the Mill Town Players with productions at the Historic Pelzer Auditorium.

She also said having a Master Plan is a big step when applying for grants. “It makes it so much easier to have that road map.”

Francisco complemented the PHC and local officials for coming together to talk about what is available to help them market and develop resources. “Most towns don’t put together something like this.”

When asked about examples of other small towns like Pelzer that have been able to capitalize on tourism, Blinson and Francisco referred to the mill village of Pacolet and success of Travelers Rest. “They have found their nitch,” Blinson said.

Representative Mike Gambrell pointed out the Greenville and Western Rail Road as an asset for the area as well as the availability of property next to the shortline railroad (the town’s former sewer lagoon).

County Council representative Cindy Wilson said the county has been successful in bringing in new companies that are locating nearby.

Rep. Anne Thayer said she was glad to see Pelzer officials and PHC members being proactive for the town.

Coker, who is also the president of the Pelzer Mills Properties organization said, “We are trying to pull some resources in on the state level. We are going to have to work on some things.”

Coker said “Having a master Plan in place to tap into some for these resources.”

Coker said the information meeting was the result of a recent visit to Columbia by PHC members, Anderson County officials and a member of the Pelzer town council who met with Josh Baker of the Governor’s office. “I would like to say that all this was lined up by Beth Phibbs, formerly of Pelzer, who is now in Columbia.”

Through the contacts in Columbia, Coker said they were contacted by the SC Department of Commerce and SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism about meeting with the PHC and Town officials “to see what kind of resources that might be availiable to all of us.”

“Our purpose is for the PHC and the Town of Pelzer to work together and maybe put a Master Plan together for the town and the Pelzer Mill properties.”

Coker said PHC has been in contact with Daniel Harding of the Clemson University Architect Department about coming to Pelzer to discuss a Master Plan.

“We have talked to several Pelzer council members about this and they are interested, but we haven’t heard from the Mayor of Pelzer on his thoughts since he wasn’t at the meeting,” Coker said. “We are really encouraged by the support from the three Pelzer town council members, County officials, House of Representative Anne Thayer and Rep. Mike Grambrell’s support at the meeting.”

“This was a step forward on finding some resources to help the Town of Pelzer and the Old Pelzer Mill property,” he said. “The Representatives from the State and everyone at the meeting all agreed that Pelzer is unique and has a lot of potential.”