“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” -- Ronald Reagan
Granted, the proposed demolition of the Greenwood County civic center does not come close as a historic parallel to President Reagan’s charge to his Russian counterpart that eventually led to the removal of the Berlin Wall, but the bittersweet moment is upon us.
Why bittersweet? Because the civic center served the Greenwood County area so well for so many years -- better than three decades, in fact. But times do change, needs do shift. The facility was home to many a great concert, performances by local students participating in education enrichment programs, athletic events, “wrasslin’” and more. It was not all that many years ago that a longer-established Greenwood icon, the Swingin’ Medallions, would bring their annual reunion concert to the civic center.
But the facility has, sadly, outlived its viability. Rock groups that used to jog to Greenwood in between stops at major venues now bypass us in much the same way Interstate 95 made a once-vibrant Route 13 along the East Coast nearly obsolete. Aside from a handful of events scattered throughout a year, the civic center stood dormant until county council decided in 2009 it would be more cost-effective to shutter the facility than try to maintain it. Utilities along with various necessary repairs and maintenance issues were resulting in the county pouring good money after bad. In short, the civic center -- never actually intended to be a profit-maker in and of itself but rather a break-even venture that brought people and dollars into the county -- had become a money pit, a drain on the county’s budget.

What to do following the shuttering of the civic center posed a new and different problem for the county. Here sits an unused 42,000-square-foot building, a large parking lot shared with an operational Farmers Market and recreational area. Here sits an eyesore as people travel to and from Greenwood along Highway 72. For too many years, county council put the matter on a back burner. There was no effort to sell the building and any of the surrounding land. There was no concerted effort to study what, if anything, could or should be done with the property. For too many years, the civic center sat along the highway like so many abandoned homes and single-wides dotting the landscape -- hardly a welcoming introduction to visitors or business and industry prospects eyeing the county.
Fortunately, the county finally took hold of the matter, faced the so-called gorilla in the room and decided the time had come to act, rather than wait for the building to simply crumble on its own. A good committee was formed to study the property and come up with its recommendations, which it did. The building cannot be repurposed, no county offices or departments can put the facility to good use. Time for it to come down, which is what council finally decided with its unanimous vote Tuesday.
Of course, the matter is hardly behind the county. It still must pay for the building’s demolition and removal. And it must decide what is to become of a sizable piece of property it still owns. We hope council will address that chapter sooner than later and not let a barren piece of land and expansive parking lot lie dormant for more years to come. That serves the county and taxpayers no purpose whatsoever.
One suggestion that surfaced during discussions about the civic center property is to convert the land into additional recreational space, perhaps even one that will be a regional draw. Greenwood would not be the first county to establish a facility -- softball fields, soccer fields and the like -- that would be utilized not only by county residents, but also by others who participate in tournament play. The idea is not without merit at all. Done right -- provided, of course, the market will bear such a facility and it is properly marketed -- we suspect a recreational complex would do what the civic center was intended to do so many years ago when it was built and draw people here who will stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores.
Council should not, however, close the book on the civic center property once it is torn down and removed. Out of site does not mean out of mind in this case.