Darlington, SC - DARLINGTON, SC (WMBF) - Downtown Darlington is seeing some much-welcomed economic growth after a five-year, $7 million revitalization initiative has been completed.
The City of Darlington was able to finish the second phase of the project through federal grants, which allowed for utilities to be buried underground, storefronts to be redesigned and dilapidated buildings to be fixed.
Darlington Mayor Tony Watkins says he worked on the efforts long before he was mayor and is happy to see the progress.
"We're not only a commercial district, but a government center and civic center," Watkins commented. "You have to work within those confounds, but that is a plus for us."
Watkins added developers have shown a strong interest in Darlington because of several large investments.
"We hope to be able to partner with them in the future for a [third phase]," he said.
City officials say all loft apartments built on top of businesses in Downtown Darlington have been rented and only one commercial space is left to be occupied in the newly renovated area. Other businesses say the efforts have helped increase traffic to Darlington Square.
Heather Jordan at the Chameleon Art Gallery says she moved to the city to open an art gallery three years ago after learning of the revitalization efforts.
"We have really enjoyed being in this particular area," Jordan said. "The revitalization effort that they brought to Darlington was unbelievable. It wasn't just a clean-up. It has been phenomenal as far as small business goes.
Other businesses are also expanding to keep up with the growth spurt. Those who live in Darlington are noticing the changes, as well.
Michael Carr cleans the downtown storefront windows, and has expanded his business as the place he calls "home" begins to prosper again.
"I love that they've opened up a lot of these buildings," Carr said. "They were about to fall apart - most of them."
Watkins believes when the economy turns around and additional money becomes available, Darlington will work to continue the revitalization efforts in other parts of town. He says it's all in an effort to get more people downtown to spend money in local businesses.