Renovating former Mary Wright Elem.: Southside residents discuss concerns as Spartanburg city leaders express interest in proposal

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – It’s an upstate school rich in history, it’s even on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, city leaders and a developer have shown interest in transforming the former Mary Wright Elementary School into an apartment building. However, some Southside Spartanburg residents told 7 News, they want their voices heard about the impact this development could have on their community.

A place Monique Watson has passed time and time again.

“It was no question, it’s an icon in this community,” said Spartanburg Resident, Monique Watson.

The former Mary Wright Elementary School is one of the last-standing formerly-segregated schools in the area. Not only has it left an imprint on Watson’s mind but also the history of Spartanburg.

“That building there was set up as an example of South Carolina moving forward on trying to put in place separate but equal,” said Assistant Director of Local History with Spartanburg County Public Libraries, Brad Steinecke.

However, some city leaders and a developer have hopes of giving it a new look, turning it into apartments.

“My market studies showed that there was demand in Spartanburg and the city for more affordable rental units,” said CEO of Montgomery Development LLC, John Montgomery.

But neighbors like Watson aren’t entirely sold on this idea. She’s not opposed to the building being transformed, but she told us, she’s concerned about how this specific plan could impact the neighborhoods surrounding it especially in an area that she said is predominately rental properties.

“You’re going to also set a precedent about rent so the 75% of investors that own those properties might look at it and go, I can get a higher rent,” Watson told 7 News.

Spartanburg City Manager, Chris Story touched on those concerns and others of gentrification during Monday evening’s city council meeting.

But Watson is not the only one questioning this idea, a handful of other neighbors from the community brought their concerns to Spartanburg City Council Monday night.

Residents on the other end also spoke up, discussing why they believe these apartment units are needed in the area. They said they think it will help revitalize the Southside of town.

The same goes for Spartanburg’s City Manager who recommended city council move forward with the proposal.

“We believe that residential conversion is the most economically viable use that we can identify,” said Spartanburg City Manager, Chris Story.

City leaders passed the first hearing on this proposal during Monday evening’s city council meeting. A second one is scheduled in two weeks.

It’s also worth noting, this would be an $11 million investment for a full historic renovation, transformed into 53 apartment units.

The building is currently owned by an Ohio based company.

It has sat vacant for over five years.

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