Downtown Florence: the past, the present and the future

Downtown Florence: the past, the present and the future

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Every day you can hear hammers, see construction and feel the change that is underway in Downtown Florence. Just this year more than $25 million in investments is slated to be added to the area.

You can't move forward without understanding the past, that's what city leaders told me when it comes to the revitalization happening in downtown Florence.

From downtown's booming beginnings to its decline to its now revitalization city leaders shared with us the past, present and future of downtown Florence.

Foot traffic, the need for more parking spaces and facade changes all mark the recent developments of Florence's historic district.

"Downtown was the core of there tail community for decades and decades, many of these buildings were built in the 1900s," said Ray Reich, Florence Downtown Development Manager.

In the early days, like any other city, Downtown Florence was the place to be.

Shops, food and people packed Evans and Dargan Street.

Ray Reich, Florence's Downtown Development Manager explained how a once bustling area of commerce becomes plagued with blight.

"Of course when the first of strip centers started out in the suburbs started - the mall was the beginning of the decline of downtown," said Reich.

Those developments not only sucked the life from Florence Downtown, but downtowns all over the US.

"Back in the early 70's the downtown had an effort to try and combat the urban flight all over the United States," said Agnes Willcox, Historic Florence Foundation.

And 30 years ago Florence leaders tried to bring people back downtown.

"And they initially tried to make the downtown look more like it was a mall. They put concrete canopies on the old buildings," said Willcox.

But it failed and some of these buildings continued to fall apart.

"The buildings are sitting empty, they're paying taxes, they're not very motivated and there is no emphasis being put on by the public sector to revitalize," said Reich.

Roofs began to collapse allowing water damage into the insides of the building, causing mold, and attracting rats and bats.

But in 2000, the county, the chamber and the City formed a vision for revitalization.

And many of the projects you see happening in downtown are a part of that vision - and thanks to a generous gift from the Doctors. Bruce and Lee Foundation - revitalization began in Florence.

"When the Library was built it was probably the biggest investment in the downtown region that had been made in 50 years or more," said Reich.

Downtown property owners must also keep the buildings' character.

"Their willingness to gamble, which it truly was a gamble at the stage of revitalization when they started their project two and a half years ago was a gamble."

And the gamble of those owners of Hotel Florence and Victors Bistro helped to contribute to the more than 130 million dollars in investments now at work in downtown Florence.

"We know the reason it's happening is because there is a serious appreciation and excitement about the historic buildings," said Willcox.

The Downtown Florence Development Corporation is helping those property owners make those changes needed to their buildings stay in line with codes by helping those owners get low interest loans.

While I spoke with Florence's Downtown Development Manger he told me that one day we may see hundreds of people not just shopping and eating downtown,but living too.

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