Mayor Foster Senn hosted a 2021 City of Newberry update Wednesday complete with conversations with local guests in the fields of healthcare, business and public safety. The update was hosted via an online platform and broadcasted on WKDK Radio.
“I want to salute the citizens of Newberry. Throughout the pandemic, Newberry citizens have been resilient and adapted,” Senn said.
At the start of 2021, Senn said he was hopeful.
“I am hopeful of the vaccine that is rolling out now, hopeful things will get better and I’m hopeful and inspired by the fact that Newberry citizens have been looking out for each other,” he said.
While 2020 was a difficult year across the country, City Manager Matt DeWitt echoed Senn’s sentiments that the City of Newberry had been resilient through it all.
Some of the accomplishments DeWitt said the city was still able to achieve in 2020 included the completion of the city’s fiber optic network, bringing the option for high speed internet to every resident and business within the city limits.
Another proud moment of 2020, DeWitt said was the buildout of the Newberry Recreation Complex.
“It’s to be enjoyed by the entire county and was paid for with the capital project sales tax,” he said.
Amenities at the recreation complex include ballfields, a walking trail, splash park and accessible playground.
DeWitt said he was encouraged by the community’s support last year of local businesses and that they were continuing to do that at the start of the new year, and he saw this new year as being full of promise.
Jessica Piersol at Newberry County Memorial Hospital said they had many things going on at the hospital. As of recently, the hospital has pulled back their visiting privileges and restricted visitation due to a surge of COVID-19 cases in the hospital for the safety of their staff, patients and community.
As for COVID-19 vaccinations, Brenda Williams of NCMH said their frontline staff have had the option to receive their vaccine.
“We have been very pleased with our staff, more and more have been stepping up,” she said.
The next phase of the vaccination process includes emergency workers, law enforcement and those in community service that were out in the community. Williams said the hospital was still signing those employees up.
The next phase of the vaccine includes those ages 70+. While Williams says the hospital unfortunately does not have the resources to provide that number of vaccines to the Newberry community, that they were steering people to the SCDHEC website (www.scdhec.gov) to view information on a map of what locations are available to residents to receive their vaccinations.
“They’re saying this could take several weeks to complete once signed up and registered,” she said. “Just because we have to wait for the vaccine to arrive here in our state.”
As far as a message to the community, Piersol encouraged residents to continue doing the things that they were asked to do at the beginning of the pandemic – wearing a mask, practicing good hand hygiene, staying home when not feeling well and practicing social distancing.
“We are a strong, united community and I know that we can do it,” she said.
Newberry County Chamber of Commerce
Michelle Long, director of the Newberry County Chamber of Commerce told Senn that many of Newberry’s businesses had learned a bit last year in innovation.
From moving services online, to making sure to limit their customers in store and to the transition of curbside pickup, Long said Newberry’s businesses brought that small-town service to residents that you can’t find elsewhere.
“I’m glad to say that we’ve not lost anyone specifically due to covid, when it comes to a business,” she said.
Moving forward, to support Newberry businesses, Long told Senn that the economy was built on small businesses and encouraged residents to shop local.
“If you need a service or a product and you’re not sure where to get it locally, call us at the chamber. That’s what we’re here for,” Long said. “We’re a resource.”
Jeff Sommer, with Retail Strategies represents Newberry as a retail consultant/recruiter. Over the past five years, Sommer said their company has worked to find sites in Newberry, catalog them and then represent the city on a national scene to get retail brands to come to the area.
Senn thanked Sommer and Retail Strategies for helping the city recruit businesses such as Starbucks, Firehouse Subs, Citi Trends and Papa John’s to come to town.
“While we can’t make people come to Newberry, we can sure encourage it,” he said.
Sommer said he was pleased to announce that Burke’s Outlet would be taking over the former Goody’s retail location in Newberry, selling things such as apparel, general merchandise, home goods and other items.
“It’s a good, strong brand,” he said. “We were pleased to hear that Burke’s was looking around the Southeast to take Goody’s spaces, so we immediately reached out.”
As the landlord, Sommer said they then let Misty West take over to negotiate lease terms, etc.
While he wasn’t able to name the brand, Sommer said Retail Strategies was working on bringing a chicken, quick-service restaurant to Newberry.
“Not necessarily Chic-fil-A, but it’s a brand that you all would recognize,” he said. “They have great chicken-sandwich type products.”
The developer has signed and closed on the property, Sommer said, however they were waiting on the lease to be signed by the corporate entity. Construction is expected to begin in quarter two of this year, he said.
Sommer said the company also had a tool, home improvement style brand that was interested in Newberry and that they were looking for the right location for them.
As far as addressing the town’s concerns for wanting an additional grocery store, Sommer said every brand [of store] has their specific criteria that they must meet in order to want to be in a market.
“While Newberry has a lot of great things to offer, it may not hit certain demographic points or things this brand may want to have in order to make money in the market,” he said.
Daily and weekly, Sommer said Retail Strategies was reaching out to grocery brands, trying to have those conversations as they know it’s a priority for Newberry.
Parks, Recreation and Tourism
City Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Scott Sawyer touched on the Newberry Recreation Complex that opened in 2020 at 1786 Glenn Street Extension.
The park property encompasses over 100 acres and includes a lake, three baseball/softball fields, two rectangular multipurpose fields, a nature trail, splash park and an accessible playground.
A few picnic shelters have just been constructed at the complex, Sawyer said, along with the prepping of the concrete pad for the pickleball court. Construction is also underway for the concessions/bathroom/scorers building.
“We don’t anticipate playing on the ballfields this year, so we’re looking at 2022 year for the first baseball/softball field playing out there,” he said due to construction timelines.
Work is also soon to begin at the Japanese Gardens, Senn said as well as improvements to Wise Street Park.
Councilman Lemont Glasgow spoke on behalf of his work with the Living Hope Foundation. While in the middle of a pandemic, Glasgow said there were many that were suffering financially, but that the community had stepped up to help.
“What has been humbling for me is to see how many people have stepped up to help us achieve our objectives,” he said.
The number of people needing service has increased during the pandemic, Glasgow said – an average about 500 households per month, with an average of four people per household.
Glasgow said the organization gives out noncooked food to those individuals to last them about one week and that they were able to do that thanks to partners like Harvest Hope and local helpers like Food Lion, BiLo, Walmart, Merchant Foods and Little Caesar’s.
“There are also small businesses that host can drives to donate to the Living Hope Foundation as well,” he said.
What has been huge for them this year, Glasgow said was the increase in individual donations
“Without the help of others, we would not be able to do all the things that we do,” he said.
Even if it’s not to the Living Hope Foundation, Glasgow encouraged those to give if they were able so that organizations like theirs could continue to do good things in the community.
Nationally in 2020, Senn said there had been a lot of discussion about police training and that the city’s police department was all very well trained.
Police Chief Roy McClurkin said one of the things his department did last year was look at some of the standards that were put out there concerning what police officers need and that thankfully the city was already doing that training.
One of the topics of training mentioned de-escalation, McClurkin said which the department was already receiving annually. Each one of the city’s officers each year is getting between 60-75 hours of training between what they receive in-house as well as specialized training.
The definition of de-escalation, McClurkin said was using verbal dialogue to keep from having to use force.
“Our officers are professionally trained and when they go to a scene and someone is upset, the first thing we do is listen to them,” he said. “You’ll find that they just want to be heard, want you to listen and that takes care of that problem.”
McClurkin said he wanted Newberry citizens to know that what they’re hearing in the news about police officers needing training here and there, that the city is already doing that, and they have a professional police department.
For those in the community with concerns, McClurkin said his door was open.
“We are here to serve the citizens of Newberry,” he said.
Fire Chief Keith Minick said the fire department stayed busy throughout 2020, despite the pandemic and were still able to provide smoke alarms to those in the community that were in need through their smoke alarm program.
Minick said the department had received several calls toward the end of last year, where there were no working smoke alarms in the residences.
“That concerns us, knowing that we have some that we can provide at no cost,” he said.
Over the last couple of years, Minick said they had had several people retire, but he was excited to announce they were now back up to full staff. Like the police department, Minick said training was very important to their staff, with each member gets about 300 hours of training per year.
Through 2020, the fire department was able to receive grant money and through working with Newberry County to put a Class A burn building together at the training facility for staff to use.
“That will allow us to do a lot more local training,” he said.
Newberry County Library
Due to technical difficulties, Abigail Fuller, the new director of the Newberry County Library was unable to complete her interview. However, Senn told the community that Fuller would be a regular guest on WKDK Radio and that he looked forward to hearing about her plans for the library.
As we go forward into 2021, Senn asked the community to be smart and to be hopeful.