Vacant buildings become an issue in West Ashley

Vacant buildings become an issue in West Ashley
Published: Jul. 25, 2013 at 11:21 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2013 at 12:28 AM EDT
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WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - There's a new plan to bring new business to West Ashley. Local city leaders are working on a "West Ashley Development Strategy" that could include new shops, grocery stores, restaurants and offices.

Charleston City Councilman Aubry Alexander said West Ashley has had more than 300 people move into the area since the start of the year, indicating this part of town is seeing some growth. However, several businesses have closed, and the empty buildings they leave behind can bring down the neighborhood.

The shopping center at Sam Rittenberg thrived a short while ago. But, since Blockbuster Video, Marshall's and Fazoli's have all closed, the shopping center is gaining the attention of elected officials who are trying to get businesses back there again.

"What can the city do," asked Alexander. "The city in particular can look at infrastructure. It can look at parks and recreation, it can look at sidewalks it can look at zoning policies."

Alexander said vacant properties attract crime, lower property values, and discourage new businesses from moving in.

"Because some people are just malicious they want to break windows. They want to tag buildings unfortunately that is part of our society today," said Alexander.

He said government officials are being proactive and they don't want this shopping center to become a well known West Ashley eyesore, like the old Piggly Wiggly shopping center off Highway 61.

Since the Piggly Wiggly shut down many years ago, the building has been vacant. It has become a magnet for garbage, graffiti, and other things people in the community say they don't want around.

"I don't like calling them bums, but a lot of bums go behind there," recounted Donnavin Phoenix who lives in the area. "I have found syringe needles. I have found drugs, little baggies, a lot of activity going on back there."

Lois Jennings remembered the shopping complex the way it used to be. She said it has seen better days back when it was a grocery store.

"My sisters all worked there," recalled Jennings. "I mean it was just the place to go everybody knew everybody."

The Charleston City Council recently considered building a senior center there, but Alexander said the plans never got off the ground.

"We found that financially it wouldn't work. There was too much renovation that had to be made on those buildings," explained Alexander.

He said city council is considering several ideas that could attract businesses and nothing is off the table at this point. But he adds they will have a better understanding of what incentives, they'll need to make to attract businesses once they actually know which ones are considering the area.

The economic development plan is still in the early stages. Right now, it includes studying who lives, works and plays in West Ashley, then identifying areas that need to be redeveloped.

The city council will meet again on a development strategy in the next thirty to ninety days.

Meanwhile, those who call this area home are waiting for change.

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