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Camden taking steps to purchase former opera house
City clock tower rests atop current thrift shop
Old Opera House
The city of Camden is considering purchasing what was once the citys opera house and city hall for $200,000. While there are no specific plans for the building, City Manager Mel Pearson said the city does plan to repurpose it for tourists or tourism in some way. - photo by Gary Phillips

The city of Camden may purchase the building atop which the King Hagler Clock Towers sits at the corner of Broad and Rutledge streets.

Council met Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., after the Chronicle-Independent went to press and, among many agenda items, was set to consider first reading of an ordinance authorizing the purchase. The building, at 950 Broad St., which currently houses the Camden Bargain Basket thrift shop, was known for many years as the home of B.C. Moore’s department store. The purchase price listed in council’s agenda packet is $200,000 and would be purchased using hospitality tax funds.

City Manager Mel Person noted that the building also served as Camden City Hall prior to the current facility on Lyttleton Street. Pearson said no specific purpose for the building has been determined at this point.

“The city only owns the clock tower,” Pearson said. “In trying to remedy our relationship with the owners, the city thought it would be better to purchase the building and repurpose it for the benefit of the city. It will serve tourists or tourism in one way or another.”

Pearson said discussions about purchasing the building have taken place since it first came up during this year’s budget process, although the proposed line item did not specifically mention 950 Broad St.

“The $200,000 was allocated specifically as a ‘historic building enhancement,’ but we didn’t know if the purchase would come together,” Pearson said.

He said the end result is to get pedestrians into downtown Camden.

“It’s another step by council to do that, by repurposing the building for tourism,” Pearson said.

The building is currently owned by members of the Trotter family of Georgetown, who have owned the building for several decades, leasing the property to Moore’s and, now, the Bargain Basket. The thrift store serves as a revenue stream for Chesterfield County-based CHESCO Services, raising funds for services to people with disabilities and their families in Chesterfield, Darlington, Marlboro, Richland and Kershaw counties.

While the Trotter family, has remained the building’s owner since 1978, the businesses inside have changed several times. B.C. Moore’s operated there starting in the 1950s until Stage Stores Inc. of Houston, Texas, purchased the chain in February 2006. Stage converted the store into a Peebles department store, only to close it in March 2008.

The building’s history dates back to 1886 when it was built as both the city’s opera house and fourth city hall. Performances took place on the main floor while the upper floors housed city offices. In 1956, when city functions moved to the current city hall, the upper floors were demolished in such a way as to leave the King Hagler Clock Tower intact. B.C. Moore’s moved in a short time later. Despite changes in ownership, the city has retained rights to the clock tower throughout its history.

Assuming first reading of the ordinance authorizing the purchase passed Tuesday night, and if second and final reading passes two weeks from now, the city will own the entire building. The purchase would give the city a second corner of an important downtown intersection, along with its recent purchase and demolition of the former Maxway department store on the opposite corner. Ultimate plans for that site are still being discussed alongside an interim proposal to install shrubs, trees, turfgrass and a mulch path as a beautification measure.

Kimbrell’s Furniture spent more than $350,000 on internal and external upgrades to its building on the intersection’s northeast corner. About a dozen years ago, owners of the building on the intersection’s southwest corner, where Davis & Sons Guitar Shop is located, made improvements.