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Sumter recognized for its revitalization efforts downtown

BY SHELBIE GOULDING
shelbie@theitem.com
Posted 8/1/20

The City of Sumter received two awards in recognition of downtown renovations and Main Street projects from Main Street South Carolina.

The Municipal Association of South Carolina program, which empowers residents, business owners and local …

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Sumter recognized for its revitalization efforts downtown

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The City of Sumter received two awards in recognition of downtown renovations and Main Street projects from Main Street South Carolina.

The Municipal Association of South Carolina program, which empowers residents, business owners and local officials with the knowledge, skills, tools and organizational structure necessary to revitalize their downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts into vibrant centers of commerce and community, recognized the city's renovation of the former Sumter Printing Co. building into apartments and the eSTEAM Sumter Festival.

Each year, Main Street South Carolina recognizes members' achievements and successes in downtown revitalization. The program follows a four-point approach that showcases economic vitality, design, promotion and organization in awarding a city.

"Downtown Sumter is a member of Main Street South Carolina, and every year, Main Street South Carolina gives out inspiration awards," said Leigh Newman, downtown development coordinator. "This is our 5th year in a row."

This year, the city was awarded with the Gaines Jontz Rehabilitation Award for the rehabilitation of the former Sumter Printing Co. building, which now houses the RS Bell Architects office on the first floor and upper-floor apartments, and the Outstanding Promotion Award and Excellence on Main Street Award for Sumter's eSTEAM Festival.

eSTEAM Sumter Festival

eSTEAM is one of Sumter's newest educational festivals.

The downtown event was recognized as one of the top projects among the winners of the Main Street Inspiration Awards, and the festival's organizer, Erika Williams, was proud to bring such recognition to the community.

"I know that's significant because the Main Street Society is a part of the Municipal Association; they are looking at so many different events that are submitted all across the state of South Carolina," she said.

eSTEAM is a program that brings together students of all ages and grades to promote STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The event is celebrated the day after National Manufacturing Day in October, and it is known to be one of the more exciting programs for student education and workforce development in the region, according to the event's organizers, participants and educational leaders. The outdoor event takes place on South Main Street and in the Central Carolina Technical College parking lot downtown and features booths, performances, food and games. Schools, businesses and community leaders offer hands-on activities for students of all ages that incorporate STEAM elements.

Williams said the program began in 2018 after organizers already had successful job fair-type expos. As the event progressed, it grew more and more into an event to show students, as well as parents, the range of available career opportunities there are in the community and beyond.

"It has truly been a win-win for the community, for the city and all the other organizations that are involved because it has taken on a statewide presence," Williams said.

Since the festival grew larger each year, Williams said both Greenville and Charleston have developed similar events, but she said she thinks Sumter's is more impactful because it brings in thousands of children from across Sumter and surrounding counties.

However, Downtown Sumter will be much quieter the day after National Manufacturing Day this year. Williams said the festival will be taking a year off because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said organizers, participants and others can look forward to the next eSTEAM Festival in October 2021.

Sumter Printing Co. building renovation

The renovation tackled a 91-year-old building.

The award is named in memory of Gaines Jontz, an architect at MASC who worked with cities and towns across South Carolina on restoration projects.

To receive this award, the project must demonstrate quality and appropriateness of design, materials and construction, as well as have a positive impact on the commercial district.

Business partners Scott Bell of RS Bell Architects, Jack Osteen and Kurt Moore teamed up to renovate this historic downtown building about two years ago.

"We had the vision of renovating it into some new office space with some apartments on the second floor," Bell said. "The building sat empty for many years. It's kind of a landmark building right across the street from the courthouse."

The Sumter Printing Co., 134-136 N. Main St., was built in 1929 with Romanesque brick detailing and was abandoned for more than a decade.

Bell's office used to be on Law Range, and he said he always noticed the rundown building sitting unoccupied. He decided someone should do something with it.

"When I needed more office space for my practice, I finally put two and two together," Bell said. "Part of our motivation was to really get some apartments on Main Street."

Bell said they obtained South Carolina abandoned buildings and historic renovation tax credits, as well as federal historic renovation tax credits to rehabilitate it. The city also awarded them with a facade grant.

The project included demolition of the building's interior, the construction of new exterior stairs, window replacements, second-floor balconies in the rear and more. At the same time, Bell also had to keep the building's historical value in place by keeping the original first-floor storefront windows and original terra cotta tile flooring and reinstalling original beaded-board ceilings in the lobbies.

The most dramatic change involved the second floor, which became residential apartments, something Downtown Sumter didn't already have.

"It's good to remodel buildings and get them back to modern systems," Bell said. "It's very important to reevaluate buildings at a certain age just to bring them back to a safe and sustainable being."

The finished project created two larger commercial spaces leased to a law firm and Bell's architecture firm, which were already located downtown, and four apartment units on the second floor.

"We're very pleased that the City of Sumter chose our project to submit," Bell said. "I've worked on Main Street for 30 years, and I really enjoy being a part of the downtown community. As an architect, it was exciting to me to bring a building that was empty and abandoned back online."

For more information about Main Street South Carolina, visit the Municipal Association's website at www.masc.sc.