Downtown Florence looks at five-year master plan to continue with success

Downtown Florence looks at five-year master plan to continue with success

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - People in downtown Florence are talking about what the next five years will look like.

The key players got together in one room on Wednesday to look at the new master plan and discuss both how to continue with the success and see where the city needs to go.

"It's critical that we do everything we can (so) that the businesses that come here are successful," said Ray Reich, manager with the Downtown Development Cooperation. "It's hard work to recruit business to downtown and it's a whole lot harder to recruit them and they fail, and then you try to get others in."

There are only 11 empty storefronts right now, compared to 45 from five years ago. The goal by the end of the year is for the city to fill half of the vacant buildings.

Officials with Downtown Florence Development said more than $260 million went into downtown Florence, with $65 million of that in private investment. The goal for the planning retreat is to listen to the top stakeholders who helped make it happen.

The five-year downtown plans include economic restructuring and vitality, organization and new design, and promotion. The most significant issues that were mentioned were the need to expand downtown to the north and toward the south, and create inviting gateways into the downtown area from all directions and corridors.

Reich said most people don't know downtown actually begins at Cherokee and Irby streets.

Downtown Development wants to establish a beginning and an end for people with signage, banners, sidewalks and light poles. Additional ideas include connecting downtown to the rest of the city via primary corridor arterial streets, identifying solutions for the food desert, and pushing downtown energy into the surrounding residential and business communities over the train tracks.

A new idea brought up Wednesday is the creation of kid-friendly and family entertainment options, such as a large park, green space and trails The next five years also includes creating 350 more housing options. Both are looking to create a lifestyle.

To help recruit business, city leaders are pushing for the recruitment of additional retail options. That would suit Marissa Kingsley, a stylist at Mainstream Boutique, just fine.

"More retail would be great. I think we need to bring more boutique-like shops in and galleries, things like that," Kingsley said. "I absolutely would not see that as competition, because with more shops (there are) more people and more reason for them to come downtown and spend a day."

Kinglsey moved to Florence five years ago and said time and development have made a "huge difference."

"The new rooftop bar at the dispensary, you can shop, eat and spend the night and discover what else is here in Florence," she said. "There is so much to offer."

Part of the planning for the next five years includes branding the success. On March 31, the city will host an event to launch the new campaign. It's centered around celebrating what Florence is and where it is going as a city.

The city will look at the final downtown Florence master comprehensive plan, along with the pedestrian master plan, at April's city council meeting.

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