Funding plan for Decker office project on tap

dhinshaw@thestate.com April 3, 2012 

Richland County Council is poised to vote today on a funding plan to cover renovating a Decker Boulevard strip mall into a public safety complex.

The $21.5 million package would not require a tax increase. Instead, it would use money already set aside for construction projects.

Councilman Jim Manning said last week he was “thrilled to death” with progress that could allow an underutilized strip mall to reopen by July 2014 as 118,600 square feet of county office space. Housed there would be about 100 officers and staff from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, along with central traffic court and a magistrate’s courtroom.

The county’s goals are to address space needs and energize a declining suburban corridor with more customers. The project, with Manning’s focus, represents Richland County’s first redevelopment effort.

Last week, the committee that monitors the project asked architect Randy Huth, with The Boudreaux Group, to incorporate a meeting room and restrooms that could be used by community groups.

Councilman Greg Pearce said that’s proven to be a good addition to the county-owned airport, where a new meeting room “is used by a significant number of groups.”

The Decker Center, as it is now called, began as an effort to free up space at the county administration building by relocating the county health department. But the agency and its downtown patients balked, so administrators shifted to solving the space crunch for traffic court, now on Huger Street.

Huth, the architect, assured the committee that renovating the strip mall was cheaper than building. The original estimate came in at $28 million.

“This is a very expensive project, but it’s also a very important project,” said administrator Milton Pope, who considers the space now devoted to traffic court downtown “woefully inadequate.”

The square footage of the strip mall is bigger than two football fields, including the end zones.

The rental storage-space business was not included in the $2 million purchase.

Now, affected sheriff’s employees are spread among five locations, most from the Region 2 headquarters at Columbia Place mall, spokesman Chris Cowan said.

Once County Council approves the budget, the architect will design the office space.

The funding package would keep the county from passing along a tax decrease, not that anyone has seriously considered cutting taxes next year as $35 million in debt is retired.

For the most part, the staff-developed plan would not divert money from other county functions. The exception is $2 million that would be re-directed from a proposed $14 million jail expansion, based on information provided to the council.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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