CATEGORY: Monroe County
Aberdeen chamber moves downtown
By Eileen Bailey
ABERDEEN - Easier access and greater visibility are catalysts behind the Chamber of Commerce's move from one of the town's oldest homes to a more central location in the downtown area.
Jo Flaherty, director of the chamber, said officials target Nov. 1 as the opening date for the new building, located on the corner of Commerce and Hickory across from the Aberdeen City Hall.
She said they plan to have an open house for the new building on Nov. 16.
Since 1986, the Aberdeen-South Monroe Chamber of Commerce has been housed in the Magnolias, an antebellum home donated to the city by Clarence Day in the memory of his parents.
The home, which is run by a commission established when the donation was made, houses the chamber on the second floor of the building, located just west of downtown businesses on Commerce Street.
The chamber was able to have space rent-free in the building. Since the home was renovated and opened, the Day Commission used the first floor for receptions and weddings.
Until recently, the building has met the chamber's needs. But as the organization expands its programs and offerings, additional space is needed.
In the years since the chamber was placed in the Magnolias, the membership and programs offered through the organization have grown, Flaherty said. One addition to the office was the Aberdeen Visitors Bureau.
"The Tourism Task Force and Retirement Development Task Force for Aberdeen set up the Aberdeen Visitors Bureau with a one percent hospitality tax," she said.
The tax dollars allowed for the hiring of a full-time person to manage the tourism and retirement programs.
The two organizations have benefited from being in the same building by not duplicating services, she said.
John Allmond, incoming president for the chamber's board, said at times people have forgotten about the chamber because it is not located in the downtown area.
Finding the chamber also has been a problem for visitors, he said. Other problems include parking and traffic flow in front of the chamber.
Another concern was the lack of handicapped access to the chamber office.
There is handicapped access to the building but not to the second floor. Allmond said there is an antiquated elevator but it does not accommodate a wheelchair.
The new building will give the chamber additional space for offices, up to three times what the chamber currently has, and storage, including up to 2,000 square feet of space in the basement.
Along with easier access to the downtown area, there is parking in front of the new building and a city parking lot on the block behind the building.
Allmond said renovation work is being done for the chamber by the owner of the building. The chamber will now have a rent payment but Allmond said it will not increase their budget much.
The Monroe County Board of Supervisors had increased their share of the chamber's budget earlier in the year, he said. The increase was not for the lease but it will free up other funds to pay for the rent, Allmond said.
Both Allmond and Flaherty said the new building will provide easier access for tourists, current business and industry personnel and residents interested in starting a business in Aberdeen.
The move has not come without concern from Aberdeen citizens.
Bob Patterson, a former member of the Day Commission, said he and some of his clients who are residents of Aberdeen, opposed the move from the Magnolias.
"The Chamber of Commerce was moved up there when Clarence Day gave the Magnolias to the community," Patterson said.
The city was allowed to assess a 1-mill citywide tax to support the upkeep of the building and the Chamber of Commerce was allowed to stay there rent free.
"Their move leaves the Magnolias in the same financial bind and no one to oversee its day-to-day operations," Patterson said.
Patterson said since "the chamber of commerce has made this move, which will be so much more expensive, and since they are receiving half or more of their annual income from taxpayers, I feel that a committee should be appointed by city, county and chamber officials to take a long look at the operations and how it is financed and what its function is."