FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - The Florence Civic Center is expanding its footprint for the first time since it was built in 1993.
The 60,000-square-foot venue is considered the largest convention, entertainment and exhibition facility in northeast South Carolina.
The new expansion is allowing Florence to recruit even more big-named conferences and conventions, bringing in more dollars to the Pee Dee. The progress and milestone of the expansion was celebrated during a construction topping-off ceremony held Thursday morning.
"So with the additional meeting space, now we are out there being a main player with Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Columbia and Greenville," said Paul Beard, the Florence Civic Center's interim general manager. "So we can go out and compete with some of the major conferences they currently attract."
Beard said Florence County's growth meant an expansion was due.
"There were so many conferences and conventions that came here and wanted to come to Florence because they liked the area, the atmosphere, the scenery, but we were missing breakout spaces," he said. "We had only three small breakout rooms and our ballroom."
The civic center can soon show off 10 breakout rooms, a junior and grand ballroom that fits nearly 2,000 people and a 10,000-seat arena. The facility is set apart because it can host conferences, conventions, trade shows, expos and sporting events.
Beard said the civic center was losing a number of the conferences that surrounding cities were able to recruit. Soon, it can do the same.
"We have to remember what happened out here first. It's given promise and hope for a lot of areas and there is an even greater impact of what's yet to come with this expansion," said Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.
The economic growth from the Interstate 20 and Interstate 95 corridor has also proven to be an impact on the entire area.
"It did all happen here and years ago, when the city and county voted to build this, it was four to three. That's how close it came to not build this initially," said Buddy Brand, Florence mayor pro tem.
It's a risk that is clearly worth taking today. Brand noted that both councils unanimously agreed to the project, pointing to the partnership between the city and county of Florence that has grown stronger since the vision began 25 years ago.
"You know, one of those thoughts going around of people saying, 'Look at all those property tax dollars going to build the civic center,' not one dime of property taxes is being used to build the $16 million expansion," said Kevin Yokim, Florence County's finance director. "It's a 50/50 split - city, county. The county pays our half from hotel taxes, so you don't fund this civic center unless you stay at a hotel here in Florence."
Yokim said the city of Florence will fund it with food and beverage taxes, and he said a lot of that comes from tourists.
The civic center is still operating and hosting events as normal throughout the rest of the construction. The expansion is on schedule to open up its doors by early 2018.