West Pelzer – “The Best is yet to Come” – Sanders presents State of the Town

West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders presented the town’s first State of the Town address Tuesday morning during the Palmetto Business Association (PBA) Toast and Topics meeting. The event was held in the West Pelzer Municipal Center.
Following a brief welcome by PBA President Roxanne Hall, West Pelzer Councilman Jim Riddle talked about the “good old days” and recalled a number of businesses that made up the town at the time.
Among those mentioned were Boyce Furniture, Snipes Drugs, Medlin’s Cleaners, Bowen Supermarket and Boots and Thelmas restaurant. He talked about the mills leaving and many of the businesses leaving Main Street with empty buildings for years.
“Leadership is everything,” Riddle said. “You must have a vision.”
Riddle recalled being introduced to Sanders, who he quickly realized was “more than just a pretty face with a mutache.”
At the time, Sanders was a member of town council and told Riddle he planned to run for mayor. Riddle said if he did, “I will run for council.” Both were successful.
Sanders was elected mayor in November 2015 and took office in January of 2016.
Since then Riddle said, “A lot has been accomplished in a few short years.”
Sanders began his address thanking Town Council, the Anderson County Delegation members, County Administrator and Town Clerk and employees. He also thanked his wife Ashley and children “for recognizing that the hours I spend on the phone, on my laptop, at Town hall , or the countless after hour meetings, that I do all of so that we can leave West Pelzer better than we found it, for the generation that matters most to us, our children, grand children and so on.”
Sanders said he had no idea why West Pelzer waited 105 years to have a State of the Town.”We’ve wanted to do it the past three years, but my vision hasn’t been clear until the past year,” he said.  “At times the town still felt broken, and I didn’t feel confident in my ability to convey a clear and concise message. Our identity was mistaken.”
Sanders said some tough decisions were made, but now “West Pelzer is economically strong, operationally resilient and strategically determined. That is the state of the Town of West Pelzer.”
He said the town is no longer based on Google searches, statewide consent orders or investigations, nor undesired hour long meetings of personal vendettas. “ We are a new West Pelzer, the strongest we’ve been, and we’re just starting to tip the scales for what is to come for the next one hundred years.”
Sanders said for 2019, West Pelzer will have one cohesive statement for the vision for the town, “Be Bold.”
“Be bold in our strategies, policies, actions and this ultimately affects our identity,” he said.
Sanders said for some reason, the identity of West Pelzer is blended with others, sometimes Pelzer, sometimes Williamston, sometimes Piedmont. “Our identity in 2019 must be clearer than ever before,” he said.
Sanders said a town’s identity is made of stories, which he shared with the audience:
“In three years, we’ve moved from an 800 square feet block building to a newly renovated 4,000 square feet Municipal Center on Main Street.  We’ve transitioned from one festival to many; we have nearly 15,000 extra people stop in our town because of our diligence.  We’ve closed off Main Street for a party and had a 5k come down Main Street.  We went from 89% vacancy in town to being nearly 100% occupied.  We’ve rebuilt the budget to be balanced and fully fund a reserve account, all while reducing taxes. We’ve rebuilt 100% of our sewer system to the tune of $17,350 per household while not raising taxes.  We paved 80% of roads before the gas tax was raised.  We finished a Comprehensive Plan and a Main Street Master Plan.  We have worked without ceasing.  In 2018, we watched our budget increase and debt decrease, trending ahead again this year, saw new homes under construction, dilapidated houses rehabilitated, and we’re seeing growth happen, from physical, to social, to spiritual. We’ll continue this in 2019 and 2020 with no tax or fee increases.”

Sanders said 2018 was a year of new business openings, events, and partnerships.
“We opened new businesses in our downtown core – Twenty-Four West Salon and Boutique, Palmetto Automotive, and Antonio’s Pizza.  We continue to host events for our residents and neighbors that are well crafted, organized, and executed – Westy’s Vintage Market in Spring and Fall, Dog Days of Summer, Community Yard Sale, Pumpkinpalooza, Mistletoe Market, and Beard and Biceps.  We opened the Senator O’Dell Community Center paid in full by PARD grants and purchased a piece of history – our original Town Hall.”

Suggestions by residents also helped shape the town’s identity. One was a blessing box.
“We simply posted that we were looking for donations – what happened next was overwhelming – over $1000 in donations from West Pelzer to Illinois, a blessing box built for free by Sam Byler (PBA Member), and a local church, Living Water, wanted it on their property.  That’s the identity of West Pelzer.”
In 2018, West Pelzer Elementary School children said during the annual, “If I were Mayor I would” talk, that they wanted a swing set in Chapman Park.  “The very next week the WPES 5k class during Career Day said all they wanted in West Pelzer were swings.  Rather than wait on government to amend a budget or vote on a purchase, WPES PTO raised nearly $1000 to purchase the swings without our help.  That’s the identity of West Pelzer,” Sanders said.
Sanders laid out a three step process to help with the bold identity he sees for West Pelzer this year.

“First, we must empower our citizens through public spaces that they are proud of and that are 100% inclusive of everyone.  This means simple things like edging our sidewalks, picking up our trash, planting more flowers, and creating opportunities for citizens to be truthfully and authentically engaged,” he said.
He also announced a new volunteer program, Leadership West, that he said will partner together citizens that want to be engaged with projects that are needed to improve the town’s identity.  “This may mean adopting a street for litter pick-up, planting flowers seasonally, or attending events to grab, guide, greet, and gather.  No job is too small and this is for all ages and abilities.  All you have to do to sign up is contact me via phone, email, or social media.”

Second he said, “We must fix our gateways.  Nothing says, “We’re a new West Pelzer like a faded wooden sign.”
“If we’re going to tell a story of a new identity, we must let people know where they are at and be proud of it.” He went on,   “This is about more than signage though.  Let’s be Bold – Perhaps it means a mural on the side of the West Pelzer Fire Department or perhaps it means we start conversations about a new, state of the art Fire Department and Public Safety Center.  A place that when you see it, you know you’re home.  Maybe this means a new traffic signal at Palmetto Road so we can slow down traffic on Main Street.  We’ve taken the time of protecting our core, now it’s time to make sure our edges match in character and quality as our downtown businesses.”

Finally he said, “We must finish strong.”
We have transformed Main Street already but there’s more to go than the 20 new homes sold the past 12 months – that’s more than our neighbors combined.  We have blighted property still on Main Street, blight and roads to pave elsewhere in town, drainage issues to repair, and citizens that need our moral and social support.”
Sanders said being bold in 2019 could mean initiating conversations about a greenway from West Pelzer to Piedmont. “But why stop there, how about we just go ahead and tie West Pelzer into the Swamp Rabbit Trail – dream bold and expect big results.”
Sanders said, “Finishing strong means our other 2019 partners have to come together.” “Our future not only depends on the local elected officials and local citizens, it requires our County, State, and Federal elected and appointed officials to step up their game too.  We cannot continue to allow mandates and poor decisions to be pushed down to local governments.”
In closing, the Mayor said, “Expect to see better public spaces, including streets and parks, projects finishing up like street paving and the renovation of our original Town Hall, murals being painted – waiting on those grant funding requests to be approved, new gateways and bold ideas, and continued successes of family friendly special events that reinforce West Pelzer as the greatest Town in Anderson County.  The decisions we make in 2019 will be bold and intentional.”

He also announced that the town will celebrate 100 years with a Centennial Celebration this
Saturday, with food trucks, inflatables, and music.
“This is a celebration and birthday party that is 100% free and open to residents (past and current), future residents, friends, neighbors, and anyone that has been impacted by our authenticity. “

“At our April Council Meeting, we’ll unveil the first artist in GRAND Gallery, Glen Miller.  The GRAND Gallery, conceived by local resident and artist Andy Gambrell, will celebrate artists who have made substantial contributions to Upstate culture and will support emerging  young  artists  by  sharing  their  work  with  the  public.  The  gallery  takes  advantage  of  West  Pelzer’s  position between  Greenville  and  Anderson  and  seeks  to  celebrate  artists  from  both  communities  while  encouraging  cross-pollination.”

The town will continue with food truck Fridays and specials at local businesses during all of the events, he said.
“In conclusion, what we have in West Pelzer is something special. We all know that.  We can see it.  We can feel it.  I’ve been fortunate to witness other communities that were at the top of their game and I can faithfully say that we are almost there – 2019 will be our push to get to the top.  I was blessed to grow up in this area, watch it mold into what it is, and am forever thankful of my time spent thus far as your Mayor.  While the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end,” we are moving forward too strong, cohesive as one community, to let the opportunity of continuing our growth pass us by. I’ll gladly be starting a campaign this summer to be re-elected as Mayor in November.
May God continue to bless West Pelzer.  The best is still yet to come.”