The Aiken City Council on Monday night approved both the sale of its downtown financial hub as well as a measure to provide a chunk of funding to the Aiken Steeplechase Association, a group working to establish a new home for its equestrian events.
Both votes are consequential and have been the topics of public debate and scrutiny.
The city will sell the Finance Building, 135 Laurens St. SW, to WTC Laurens LLC for $1.3 million, the recently appraised value. The city will have to move out of the building by the end of June – or pay rent.
The Finance Building currently houses the city manager's office and the city's finance wing. Operations there and at the Municipal Building, where City Council meetings are held, will eventually be shifted to and consolidated at the former Regions Bank building along Chesterfield Street.
The vote Monday was 5-1, with City Council member Ed Woltz dissenting. Mayor Rick Osbon recused himself. His business, Osbon's Laundry and Cleaners, is adjacent to the building.
City Council in November considered a $1.2 million deal.
WTC Laurens is managed by Tom Wyatt, the same person who is spearheading the radical redo of the old Aiken County hospital property. The two properties are but a handful of blocks apart.
The city bought the Finance Building in late 2011 for $750,000, Aiken County property records show. About $902,000 was subsequently spent on improvements and renovations – bringing the total to more than $1.6 million.
City Council's approval to provide funding – a total $1 million – to the Aiken Steeplechase Association was unanimous, a decision met with cheers and applause. City Council previously considered a $1.5 million deal, which included a $500,000 loan.
The money, sourced from hospitality taxes, among other accounts, will go toward the association's purchase of more than 100 acres of land bounded by Richland Avenue East, Old Wagener Road and a portion of the Aiken bypass. That land – costing more than $2 million total, according to City Council documents – will in the near future likely play host to the association's events.
The Aiken Steeplechase Association has for years hosted their events, such as the namesake spring and fall races, at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation's Bruce's Field.
The association's president, Paul Sauerborn, has previously said the steeplechase is "oversubscribed" there.