LUMBERTON — U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger is optimistic that Robeson County will be able to pay for renovations to the former BB&T building on Chestnut Street with a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan.
Pittenger, whose 9th District includes all of Robeson County, told The Robesonian recently that a change in the wording of regulations governing eligibility to receive USDA grants and loans was approved by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture. Studies indicate that it will cost about $12 million to renovate the landmark in downtown Lumberton.
“This will allow Robeson County to receive a USDA grant to be used for work on the BB&T building,” Pittenger said. “If approved when the 2018 budget is voted on the money could become available by this fall.”
Pittenger testified before the subcommittee in March in support of a wording change that would make the county eligible to fund the BB&T project with USDA funds. Under current law, Lumberton’s population exceeds the 20,000 population threshold for grant eligibility. The new wording increases the population threshold.
The bill’s new language “should help Robeson County and Lumberton tremendously by allowing buildings the county owns in the city of Lumberton to potentially qualify for federal grants and loans,” said County Attorney Patrick Pait.
Under current law the county cannot qualify for assistance under the community facilities program of USDA Rural Development because the Lumberton’s population exceeds 20,000, Pait said. The new language will allow counties across the country that are considered “persistent poverty counties” to increase the population threshold by 10 percent and potentially qualify for funds.
“Even if USDA funds are not used for the BB&T project, they can be used on other projects located in the city,” Pait said.
Although “not a sure thing until the budget is approved,” he is optimistic, Pait said. In case it does not make it through the full Congress, all other possible funding options are being studied, he said.
“The county is very thankful not only for all of the tremendous work of Rep. Robert Pittenger, but also the great support from Rep. Richard Hudson, and especially Rep. Robert Aderholt, chairman of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, who included the language in the House bill after Congressman Pittenger testified before the Subcommittee on Agriculture in March,” Pait said. “We are optimistic that this language will be passed by the House and we, with the continued assistance of former Congressman Mike McIntyre, have already notified both Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis’ staff to ask for their support in the Senate.”
The county bought the BB&T parking lot on Chestnut Street in September 2011 for $650,000. The building itself was donated to the county by the family of the late Hector MacLean, a prominent Lumberton banker and former city mayor and state senator.
County plans for the building call for it to eventually house the Tax Office, Register of Deeds, County Manager’s Office, Computer Operations, Finance and Human Resources Department, the county attorney, and Veterans Services.
County Manager Ricky Harris said earlier this week that the Gensler architectural and planning firm has begun the design work for the proposed office complex.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.