Business owners in Decker Center won't have to relocate until January, but they will have to continue paying their full rent to Richland County at least until September.
The Richland County Council met during a special called meeting on Tuesday and although discussions about Decker Center, formerly known as Decker Mall, were a late addition to the agenda, they became the focus of the meeting.
Councilman Jim Manning of District 8, the chairman of the Decker Center ad hoc committee, proposed that the council allow the four month-to-month tenants to remain in the mall until January 31, 2012. He also asked council to renegotiate the lease with Legends Security and Sound, the only business that did not have a month-to-month lease.
Manning and councilman Damon Jeter said the January 2012 deadline corresponded with the estimated time that the county could begin construction on the newly purchased building.
The council voted to accept both recommedations.
Manning also proposed that the county immediately reduce the rent of the Decker Center tenants by 50 percent to assist with relocation. The rent payments currently bring in about $6,950 per month.
Councilman Gregory Pearce Jr. and councilwoman Val Hutchinson expressed concerns that the reduction might cause the county to lose money on the mall because of maintenance costs.
Because of uncertainty among the council, Pearce recommended that the decision be deferred until September, "when we have a full understanding of the financial picture of that mall, so we can make a decision with everybody on council having all the facts."
Pearce's motion passed, despite objections from Manning and others.
Manning, who represents the district in which Decker Center is located, seemed disappointed by the council's inaction and, sensing defeat, delayed the vote by asking to recognize Decker Center tenants in the audience.
"I would like to recognize some of the tenants from Decker Center who are really struggling to make ends meet as small businesses in the county," Manning said. "When government is deferring, it has a significant impact on their livelihood and their lives."
Before Manning could finish his statement, Pearce objected, saying Manning's address was "extremely inappropriate."
Although the county had no obligation to reduce the rents of the Decker Center tenants, members of the ad hoc committee initially suggested the reductions because they felt the county should not profit from the tenants in the same way a private corporation would.