Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill Talks on to lease railroad property

Town officials are working on another plan to drastically alter the appearance of downtown Fort Mill.

Fort Mill is close to a deal with Norfolk Southern Railway and three former business owners to tear down the two white cinder block buildings along the tracks and the small white warehouse across White Street, Town Manager David Hudspeth said. The town wants to use the property the buildings now occupy as part of a beautification and revitalization project.

The buildings, including the old Fort Mill Hardware store, technically belong to the tenants who built them, although the land beneath the buildings remains under the control of Norfolk Southern. The family-runhardware store closed in 2006 after 60 years in business.

"[All of the building owners] would have the option to move the buildings, except you can't move them," Hudspeth said. "The owners have given us permission to demolish them."

However, the town can't demolish the buildings until it signs a lease for the land with Norfolk Southern and jumps through several other hoops, Hudspeth said. Getting a lease from Norfolk Southern may be the easiest part, he explained; The town has made several attempts in recent years to strike a deal with the railway company.

Demolishing the buildings will require inspections to determine if any hazardous materials, such as asbestos or lead paint, have to be removed. Fort Mill will have to hire a contractor to conduct the demolition work, and Norfolk Southern will have to sign off on it. The town will also need a permit from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control before the buildings can be razed. The total cost of the project will depend in part on factors such as removing asbestos if necessary, Hudspeth said.

"The owners don't have a use for the buildings and neither do we," Hudspeth said. "We do have use for the land."

The lease being discussed would cover all of the property owned by Norfolk Southern along the tracks from the intersection of Spratt and White streets on the hillside along White Street to Massey Street. Hudspeth did not disclose a lease amount because it is still being negotiated.

The town views the property as one of its "gateways" to Fort Mill and the town wants to control and beautify the image it projects as people drive in along Spratt Street, officials said.