Hotel Aiken, old drug store axed in Aiken revitalization plan; residents speak out

AIKEN, SC (WJBF) — As plans for redevelopment in Aiken become clearer, several residents are voicing concerns including how Aiken could lose its historic character.

Luis Rinanldini chose Aiken because of its history, culture, and charm. “You can imagine our shock when shortly after we moved here at the beginning of this year, we found out that the city is intending to demolish two very important historic buildings,” he told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk. “It’s one of the few African-American structures in Aiken that is part of the history and growth of Aiken,” Bill McGhee added. McGhee’s grandfather was an architect whose company, McGee Builders, built one of the structures.

Hotel Aiken and the old Johnson Drug Store could be on the chopping block if plans for Project Palcalis get underway. The project will bring apartments, a new hotel, a conference center, and a garage. “Fundamentally like a lot of these projects, it comes down to dollars and making it work financially and from a financial standpoint,” city manager Stuart Bedenbaugh added.

Rinanldini and Mandy Drumming are a part of a petition to halt the possible demolition of the two historic buildings. Preservations groups at the state level are also watching and waiting. “We would like to present that to city council and other officials in our community that is supporting the demo of these huge buildings,” Drumming said.

City leaders are working on a compromise to help keep some of the features of the buildings. “The historic facade, which fronts Richland Avenue and has that 45-degree angle at the corner of Newberry and Richland, is slated to be incorporated and saved as part of the building.

One section of Newberry Street is expected to be one way when the project is completed. The changes won’t be immediate. “If they close Newberry street, it will also mean that they will destroy the building that my grandfathers built back in 1920,” McGhee said. “I think that building should be preserved,” he added.

If approved, several work sessions and public input will take place to help move the plans forward. City leaders are working with displaced businesses with relocating.

Meanwhile, McGhee says that Aiken could lose its charm with the current scenario. “I think a smaller hotel, reuse of the existing, and a minimum number of apartments, if needed,” he said.

The earliest city council will take up the project again is at the April 25 meeting, according to Bedenbaugh.

MORE: Friends of Johnson Drug Store + The Commercial Hotel

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