Florence City Councilman questions dealings behind sale of historic building

Florence City Councilman Ed Robinson held a news conference Friday morning outside the old Trust Building on Evans Street to set the record straight about the sale of the city's first skyscraper.

The city bought the 96-year-old building so the land could be used to build Francis Marion University's new medical college.

Robinson says they voted on the matter during a September 9th council meeting, but believes a deal on the sale had already been negotiated.

"For some reason, things are not transparent as you said. Things are being hidden. How is it that they can get a contract on this building before they can give staff direction to do that? Somebody had to do that. Somebody had to know the outcome before it even came on the table," said Robinson.

Minutes from the September 9 meeting show that Robinson addressed some concerns about the sale. He asked who had been given permission to obtain a contract on the Trust Building as this has not been brought before council for approval.

The minutes reflect that Mayor Stephen Wukela acknowledged Robinson's concerns, but stated that council as a whole believes in downtown and that this is the next step to revitalizing the community.

Council voted 6 to 1 to buy the property with Robinson casting the dissenting vote.

Robinson says he stands by his beliefs that certain members of council were fully aware of a contract on the building before it was voted on.

"All of this stuff was prearranged, prediscussed and predetermined without going before city council. You know, somebody is running the city of than those of us who are on city council."

Mayor Stephen Wukela issued the following statement to WPDE NewsChannel 15 on the sale of the Trust Building:

"I understand that Councilman Robinson has today indicated that he is opposed to building a Health Sciences facility on Evans Street at the site of the former Trust Building because he feels that he is uninformed on the issue. I cannot speak to Councilman Robinson's familiarity with the issues before Council, except to say that City Council voted six to one to clear the site for location of the Health Sciences facility after extensive briefing and discussion that was available to, and participated in, by all members of Council. I am confident that the project will go forward without delay," said Wukela.

There is a 60-day delay on the permit to demolish the building as the Florence Historical Commission reviews the historical significance of the building.

The city's Design and Review Board has yet to meet on the matter. It could have a major say in what happens to the Trust Building.