Developers Upbeat About Railroad Corner Plans

Railroad Corner project developers and City of Orangeburg leaders say the multimillion-dollar revitalization of the historic downtown area will be successful despite delays.

“We know that it is behind,” Orangeburg University District Partners developer Larry Salley told Orangeburg City Council during a recent meeting and update on the project.

“We are ready to get started. We want to show progress for the city. We want to show you that we can do this project and we assure you that it can be done,” he said.

Salley was joined by other project development partners, including lead project developer Mike Glenn with Luna Development.

Railroad Corner is located at the intersection of Russell, Magnolia and Boulevard streets.

City leaders have long talked about the need to develop the area, which they consider a gateway to the city. It historically was the site of flourishing Black-owned businesses.

People are also reading…

Over the past four years, the city purchased about a dozen properties on the corner to help lock down its plans for revitalization.

Glenn said much work has been done behind the scenes in the year since the company was awarded the project.

This includes:

• Geotechnical work

• Environmental studies, which are ongoing

• Brownfield investigations

• A market study

• Completed conceptual drawings

• Beginning of the design development drawings

Salley noted city leaders have given developers the marching orders to move on the project as there has been little noticeable site work done to date. City officials say dealing with the various historic and state tax credits as part of the development has slowed the process down somewhat.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler said the city is ready to see shovels in the ground and the project moving forward.

“At one time we had it in Orangeburg,” Butler said. “We had four movie theaters. Downtown was vibrant and we are getting ready to bring it back.”

“Just give us a chance to get all this stuff back that we once had because we had it,” Butler continued. “The Railroad Corner will always be the first African American commercial business. It will always be known as that, but we can’t sit back and not enhance it and not help it grow.”

Early construction and site work on the housing and retail development is targeted to begin in November, with full-scale construction targeted for the end of March 2024.

The construction period for the first phase of the three-phase project is expected to be conducted over a 12-month period.

“We feel confident that once this facility is in place, that it will serve as a magnet to attract business, to attract folks back to downtown,” Salley said. “We see this as a catalyst project. Railroad Corner is a vital site to this city.”

Salley said developers are talking with business owners and franchises throughout the country about the development plans.

The development plan

Glenn said as it stands now, the three-phase development will be on about 2.2 acres, with the first phase being about 1.2 acres. The other two phases will complete the remainder of the site.

Phase 1 of the project will include the construction of two, six-floor, 40,000-square foot buildings facing Russell Street and Treadwell Streets, according to a plan layout. The buildings will serve as student housing for South Carolina State University and Claflin University.

The first floor of each building will consist of 4,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet of retail and office space.

The remaining five floors of each building will have 30 four-bedroom apartment units with six units per floor. Each unit will have two full baths, a washer and a dryer, Glenn said.

Each floor will also have a student commons area that will include a living room and kitchen. Buildings will also have exterior balconies, Glenn said.

Details on the management or ownership structure of the apartments was not immediately available.

Glenn said there would be temporary parking off Treadwell Street to accommodate the first phase of the project. A permanent parking garage that will have space for 200 to 300 cars is also envisioned, Glenn said.

The plans also call for a dine-in restaurant with an arts ambiance and décor on the first floor of the housing.

Glenn said the vision for the restaurant is similar to Washington, D.C.-based Busboys and Poets.

He noted the restaurant will serve as more than just a dining place, but will serve as a community gathering location with poetry and short story readings as well as a bookstore with a focus on Afro-centric authors.

Local artists would also be showcased.

Buildings currently fronting Russell Street will be demolished in order to build the two buildings and the retail areas.

Orangeburg County and the City of Orangeburg recently entered into an agreement to establish the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum facing Boulevard Street.

Under the agreement, the city will give the county the properties – the former State Theatre and soda shop — which the county will help refurbish with $1 million from the capital project sales tax.

County officials say work at the property could begin at the end of the year, once design and permitting are done. The county has said it will work with the city’s architect team.

Orangeburg resident William Green expressed concerns about the plans to tear down the historic buildings facing Russell Street and not preserving them.

“We have tried to communicate with the public from the beginning that we understand your interest in historic preservation for that area,” Orangeburg City Administrator Sidney Evering said. “We certainly understand what it means for the city of Orangeburg. However, it was a little premature, I believe, for us to say whether or not those buildings would be preserved because there hadn’t been any civil engineers to go in to evaluate the structures to determine whether or not they are even salvable.”

“There are ways to preserve the history without actually preserving the buildings,” Evering continued. If a building is not salvageable, a better investment would be to “raze the building and rebuild and still preserve the history in other ways. There are other ways that we have in mind in preserving that history.”

Glenn said there are no current, definite plans for the gas station on the property. That will be addressed in the second phase of the project.

“We are trying our best to save buildings historically,” Glenn said, addressing the gas station. “At the minimum, we will hopefully use the façade for a building that would be put on that site, but again, it is pretty much premature for now.”

In addition to building preservation, plans also include the creation of walk-through opportunities with urban and plaza spaces.

The plan would also make Boulevard Street into a one-way street and create a pedestrian retail plaza at the corner.

The redevelopment proposal was projected to cost about $18.2 million, with an anticipated public investment of between $4.5 million and $5 million.

The project will also receive a $22.8 million federal grant to build a pedestrian bridge. The bridge will be built over Magnolia Street and the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks.

In addition to the bridge, the project will include a new public transit stop and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and bicycles

Construction on the bridge is projected to begin in 2024.

Project officials have stressed for the project to be feasible, it would need university partnerships for housing; federal and state tax credits; grants and public participation.

A partnership coalition has formed to help move the project’s plans along.

The Orangeburg County Legislative Delegation has secured $250,000 for the Civil Rights Museum and another $700,000 in U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development funding has been awarded for the renovation of the Old State Theatre, where the museum will be housed.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.

About the author: Admin Verified Member Verified Professional Verified Black Owned
We created this site to help Black-Owned Businesses in the USA.

Get involved!

Get Connected!
Join our Community and Expand your audience and get to know New Black-Owned-Business!


No comments yet