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Georgetown fire: Haley declares emergency for downtown

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Gov. Nikki Haley has kept the promise she made when she visited Georgetown after a fire ravaged its central business historic district last month.

Haley has declared an emergency for the city and county, making funds available for local governments to repair public property destroyed in the fire. Up to $1 million could be sought from the S.C. Department of Commerce’s Community Development Block Grant Program. This is the first time Haley has used block grant funds for an emergency, a spokesman in the governor’s office said.

Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said the money could be used to repair parts of the Harborwalk along the Sampit River that were damaged as well as street lights and the sidewalk. “We are still identifying those areas,” Scoville said. He’s not sure the grant will cover Georgetown’s 940 hours of overtime accumulated by its fire, police and public works departments.

“We welcome any funds available,” he said. “It will be appreciated.”

Owners of the eight businesses closed by the fire also get a financial break from the governor’s emergency declaration. They will not be charged costs associated with paying out unemployment benefits. About 130 people lost jobs in the fire that destroyed seven buildings.

A contractor hired by the city of Georgetown took down the burned facades in the 700 block last week and pushed the rubble off the sidewalk so Front Street could be reopened. A security fence was erected and city police were watching round the clock to keep people off the property. Those patrols end at 6 p.m today, and property owners have been advised to remove anything they consider valuable.

Scoville said county jail inmates volunteered to help remove rubble from the edge of the water along the Harborwalk.

The Front Street Fire Fund has surpassed $73,000 in donations since being formed on the day of the fire, Sept. 25. A committee agreed this week on how to distribute an additional $47,500 to residents, business owners and employees affected by the fire, bringing total disbursements to $65,000.

The committee allocated $27,000 to assist business owners looking to reopen along Front Street. To date, the owners of Zest, Doodlebugs, Colonial Florist, Harborwalk Books, Boardwalk Boutique and Goudelock have made significant progress in locating new property and reopening. Several of the businesses anticipate being open prior to the Wooden Boat Show Oct. 19. The committee also allocated $15,000 to assist the residents with their immediate needs including clothing, initial deposits for dwellings, furniture, etc. The balance of the allotted funds will be designated for the employees as they look for new employment.

Author and broadcaster Cokie Roberts and her husband, Steve, have agreed to open their beach house at Pawleys Island for a fundraiser on Oct. 24 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $100. Contact MaryLou Kenney at mlkenney48@sccctv.net.

The Swamp Fox Players will donate the proceeds from the Oct. 24 box office from “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns,” at the Strand Theater. Tickets will be $25. Showtime is 8 p.m.

Wedgefield Plantation is planning a captain’s choice golf tournament in November to benefit the Front Street fund. Entry fee will be $60 per player. After the tournament, a party will also benefit the fund. Tickets will be $25 for the party.

Portofino’s restaurant in Georgetown is hosting a silent and live auction Sunday with live music and appetizers to help artist John Walters rebuild his studio and replace art supplies. All proceeds from the $20 tickets go to Walters. The Georgetown School of Arts and Sciences will hold a 5-mile walk-a-thon around the historic district Saturday at 1 p.m. beginning at First Citizens Bank and ending at Portofino’s with a barbecue dinner for $12 a plate. A quarter of the proceeds go to the fund.

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