City of Aiken, historians at odds over what to do with hospital building

City of Aiken, historians at odds over what to do with hospital building
Aiken County Hospital (Source: Lex Juarez)

AIKEN, SC (WFXG) - The future of Aiken’s historic hospital building is still up in the air, and the city council is working with developers to find a solution. The debate now has the attention of local and state historians. As city leaders work to make a decision on future developments on this property, the Historical Aiken Foundation brings up the of history of the area, and some citizens are concerned about just how much of this history will be preserved.

“We’re losing our historic structures at an alarming rate, so we don’t want to lose this one,” says Charlotte Wiedenman, President of the Historic Aiken Foundation. “It was considered a cutting edge hospital and just top of the line facility.”

The old Aiken County Hospital, part of designer Willis Ervin’s portfolio, sits on a property that once held a Winter Colony Hotel, another hospital and a nurses facility. Now, five years after being abandoned, it’s in danger of being torn down. Plans presented to city council Monday show a hotel, apartment buildings and more taking its place. City of Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon said the new plan will be a good first impression for visitors.

Mayor Osbon said, “This is an entryway and gateway into our historic downtown Aiken and we want something that says, ‘Hey, I’m in Aiken,’ and makes a statement. We know the quality that this development team puts out so I think it’ll be something we’re proud of for years to come.” Wiedenman has a different opinion. "People are looking for authentic experiences. They’re not looking for a generic hotel, so a conversion to that affect would really speak to the, ‘Wow! That’s a really neat place to stay,’ and that’s the kind of draw people are looking for.” What she’s suggesting is transforming the old building into something that’s one of a kind.

“I was born in that building too, so I have to say I’m sentimentally attached to it as well, but the fact is, it’s been abandoned for five years,” says Mayor Osbon. Those five empty years, Weidenman says, could be to the advantage of whoever takes on the project. “There are tax incentives for developers to come in for properties that have been abandoned for five years and this is a prime example of where that tax credit will work,” she said.

Mayor Osbon says there’s no feasible way to transform the World War II style building, but Wiedenman insists someone can do it; preserve a part of the city’s history and move forward into the future. “Either the Wyatt group or another developer who is experienced in this type of thing, save the building, adaptive reuse, give it a new life, but keep the building and start it’s next chapter,” she said.

The next public hearing with city council will be on June 24 at 7 p.m.

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