RIDGE SPRING – Tom Quattlebaum and Noel Steele have big plans for the project they call Cumbee Place. They are spearheading the effort that will transform a former funeral home on Main Street into a community and small business development center.
“There is a huge need for something like this,” Steele said. “Some of the smaller towns in this area are struggling, and this is an effort to help them out and bring about some revitalization.”
Quattlebaum, who was in the farm supply business before he retired, bought the property for Cumbee Place in November. His original intention was to locate a cluster of small businesses there.
But that priority changed a little after Quattlebaum began talking to Steele about Cumbee Place during a meeting of the Friends of Ridge Spring, an organization that promotes the town and its businesses.
Steele suggested launching a small business incubator, and that will be one of Cumbee Place's focuses at the outset.
“We will help people with their business plans, we will help them find funding and we will give them a place where they can open their businesses and actually get them started,” said Steele, who is the chief executive manager of Studio 23.
Agritourism also will be emphasized. Cumbee Place will offer information about and promote farms in the area.
“We want to have multimedia presentations that show what the farms do,” Steele said.
In addition, Cumbee Place will serve as a new home for Friends of Ridge Spring.
But those aren't Quattlebaum and Steele's only ideas. They would like for Cumbee Place to host GED classes and perhaps some Piedmont Technical College courses.
They think it could also be the site of a restaurant and a culinary school.
“I'm really trying not to do too much visualization right now,” Quattlebaum said. “Instead, I'm presenting it and letting people decide what it needs to be. I don't want to lock in too many things and leave other stones unturned.”
Cumbee Place will operate as a nonprofit venture. Quattlebaum and Steele have sought input and assistance from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and Clemson University.
Work already has begun to renovate the 4,137-square-foot main building, a smaller structure behind it and a small house that Quattlebaum had moved to the property.
“From start to finish, it's probably going to cost around $250,000,” Quattlebaum said. “We're going to be applying for grant money, but if it doesn't come through, I'll pay for it on my own.”
For Quattlebaum, one of the motivations for developing Cumbee Place is to provide support to young people in the community.
“So many kids are coming through the school system that don't finish school; that is why a GED program is needed,” he said. “After they get their GED, they can start a little business here, live in Ridge Spring and raise a family.”
There are other reasons for Quattlebaum's involvement. While growing up, he played in the yard of Cumbee Place when it was a funeral home.
“I had a great friend whose family owned it, so this is sort of a tribute to them,” Quattlebaum said.
He also would like to create something with a lasting presence in the community.
“It's sort of a legacy thing, I guess,” Quattlebaum said. “I'm 63 years old. I was born here and raised here, and I live between Ridge Spring and Monetta. Fifty years from now, I want there to be a place that my grandchildren can ride by and say, 'My granddaddy helped start this.'”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.