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Ideas always welcome here

Posted: June 10, 2013 5:08 p.m.
Updated: June 12, 2013 5:00 a.m.

For the past couple of years, Kimbrell’s has been considering closing its Camden furniture store due to the declining downtown foot traffic. Recently, the CEO of Kimbrell’s met with Camden officials and, upon hearing of our plans to revitalize Camden, committed to renovate the interior and exterior of their store at the corner of Broad and Rutledge. For those who want to see the eventual results of the ongoing renovation, check out Kimbrell’s in downtown Sumter, almost the exact same building. There, Kimbrell’s uncovered the second-story windows hidden behind mammoth aluminum cladding, replaced an aluminum awning with a smart, striped canvas one, and applied the intense color pallet of the Victorian era to create an inviting building of dignity and warmth. Inside, they enclosed metal pillars in wooden paneling and carpeted the floor. Kimbrell’s also brought in a more diversified line of furniture. Camden’s Kimbrell’s, in addition to improving the look of our downtown, will prove to be a distinct asset for families looking for attractive, affordable furniture.

On the subject of Sumter, last month, City Manager Mel Pearson and I met with Greg Thompson, CEO of Thompson Turner Construction, a Sumter native, who is singularly transforming downtown Sumter. In addition to establishing Hampton’s restaurant with its international chef, Thompson will now be building a 100-room downtown hotel with yet another restaurant with yet another international chef. He is also renovating eight additional buildings in downtown Sumter with an emphasis on creating second-story condominiums and lofts, typically 1,200 square feet each. Please note, in terms of Louise Burns’ recent letter to the Chronicle about our Broad Street trees, Sumter has encouraged its downtown trees to grow into high shade trees, removing the lower branches and creating a green canopy over their shopping district.

As previously reported, the city has been discussing what’s called a vest-pocket park for the soon-to-be vacant lot across the street from Kimbrell’s when the Maxway Building comes down in early fall. These parks provide space for shoppers and tourists and break up long blocks with air and greenery. Sumter has a whole bunch of vest pocket parks, including one with a waterfall, and another, a Rotary project, with a large circular fountain and pool. As the New York Times said last week in an article by Michael Kimmelman about public spaces, “As more and more Americans, especially younger ones, are looking to move downtown, seeking alternatives to suburbs and cars, they’re reframing the demand for public space. They want elbow room and creative sites, cooked up by the community or, like the plaza program, developed from a democratic mix of top-down and bottom-up governance.” Kimmelman compares small urban spaces to kitchens where most of us, if given half a chance, congregate during large parties. Rest assured, we, the city, are open to everyone’s ideas about the use of this particular space. So far, individuals have asked that some of the space on the Commerce Alley side be used for additional parking. Someone else suggested a backdrop memorial wall with the names of our fallen warriors, maybe on bronze plaques. Others suggest kiosks with tourist and retail shopping posters and perhaps a volunteer-staffed information stand. Clearly, we envision benches, flowers, and some kind of water feature, as we now seem to call fountains.

Other city and community discussions, still in embryonic stages, center on improving our recreational facilities, hopefully in partnership with the county. County Administrator Vic Carpenter and his second-in-command, Allen Trapp, have been providing enthusiastic leadership in this area, most recently in conversations about creating a county-city riverfront park with boat ramps for crewing as well as individual canoeing and kayaking. Imagine multiple acres of riverfront land for family and community picnics, concerts, and river sports competition. Several possibilities on the Lugoff side of the Wateree River are being discussed. In all cases, we need community buy-in; we need your ideas; we need your networking. Please speak up and keep speaking up. As I keep saying, we are an extremely accomplished group of people in this, our extended community of Camden/Lugoff/Kershaw County and we need to communicate more with each other about our public identity and purpose. As the county seat, Camden is open to all ideas and connections to bring these ideas to fruition.

Congratulations to Chick-fil-A for its new store on DeKalb, right in front of Kmart. The grand opening was June 6. Our community now has most of the great fast-food choices available. It’s all good.

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