Downtown Florence is newest state-recognized cultural district

Downtown Florence is newest state-recognized cultural district

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Downtown Florence is the seventh city in all of South Carolina to receive a cultural district designation. The South Carolina Arts Commission officially recognized downtown Florence at the state house grounds on Thursday. City staff and the Florence Regional Arts Alliance were a part of the presentation.

A cultural district is an easily identifiable geographic area with a concentration of arts facilities and assets that support cultural, artistic and economic activity. Florence City Councilman George Jebaily said, "This designation recognizes the hard work done over the last 17 years by a community committed to a unified vision to create a detailed master plan establishing a purposeful clustering of multiple arts venues in downtown Florence."

Jebaily added, "Through the collaboration of the many public-private partners working together on this unified vision, we have seen the master plan become a reality leading to this important designation. We anticipate that many new opportunities will now be available for us to promote both the City of Florence and the entire Pee Dee Region as an important destination for arts, culture and entertainment."

A resolution of the Florence City Council designated portions of downtown as a state cultural district in 2015. This was after the cultural district program was created by the S.C. General Assembly and Gov. Nikki Haley in 2014. It authorized the South Carolina Arts Commission to grant the designation to cities.

The city of Florence applied for this designation with the help of the Florence Regional Arts Alliance. Executive Director Susan Cook said two of the requirements are the district has to be an easily identifiable geographic area and walkable. "And that's full of arts facilities and assets, and so it's concentrated with artistic and cultural and economic activity that is taking place. So the city planners and the downtown development really knew what they were doing when they were planning these out so many years ago," Cook said.

Cook added now Florence is put into a statewide network of arts tourism. "We're bringing folks in to see what Florence has had for so many years, and we are just pushing that forward. So it was part of the Florence Regional Arts Alliance that helped organize to get the application in place to submit to the Arts commission."

Significant points of interest in the cultural district include, the Drs. Bruce & Lee County Library, the Francis Marion Performing Arts Center, the Florence Little Theatre, the Florence County Museum, the Waters Gallery, Restaurant Row, Hotel Florence, The Kress Corner, the Art Trail Gallery, and the James Allen Plaza and Breezeway.

Cook said there are nine arts-related private entities in the downtown district that are essential to have who also work out of restored old historic buildings.

"You have places such as Tiffany Thomas Art studio you know how have Ezra Brown who is an internationally known sax musician and they now have facilities where folks come in and sell their artwork as well as performances," said Cook.

Councilman Jebaily explained this is a commitment to making downtown Florence stand out even more.

"We have 72,000 cars passing Florence every day and 20 percent of those are leisure travelers, we would like those people to come and stay in Florence and let Florence act as the hub and spokes of the rest of the Pee Dee."

Jebaily said part of the master plan is the new art trail gallery building that is expected to be the main hub and serve as a venue for visitors and working artists.

"And this designation, we are hoping will allow us to put that brown sign out on the interstate that says historic downtown, cultural district, Florence Art Trail Gallery, and send people here," Jebaily stated.

The Florence Regional Arts Alliance said it will continue to work alongside the city of Florence to push for even more growth and help support the art business market in downtown.

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