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City starts to update plan for downtown Florence

September 27, 2018

City leaders are embarking on a project to update the comprehensive plan for downtown Florence.

FLORENCE, S.C. — City officials met with business and community leaders Wednesday morning to discuss the future of Florence’s downtown.

During the next 18 months, officials will be working on a drafting an update of the city of Florence comprehensive plan for downtown, which will include an updated 10-year master plan for downtown Florence.

City Manager Drew Griffin said the meeting was the first of many planned for the next year. The comprehensive plan is expected to be released in early 2020.

“The downtown element is a very important part of the city’s comprehensive plan,” Griffin said. “That process will start with some introductory work with city council, and then starting into the new year, the city will engage the entire community in the comprehensive plan process.”

Griffin said he would encourage residents to look at the comprehensive plan from several years ago on the city’s website.

Ray Reich, the city of Florence downtown development manager, said the meeting was a chance for many business owners and those invested in downtown to give their views on what is working well and what needs to change.

“This is the first of a number of meetings that will address not just downtown but a number of community needs,” Reich said. “What we took today was the input — the good, bad and ugly things — from many stakeholders downtown that we should be focusing on, and what we will do is bring that information down and pinpoint what needs to be done next and what needs to be addressed in the master plan.”

Reich said the city plans to meet with the public in the future and hopes to engage the community as they look ahead to the future with large-scale meetings and focus groups.

Reaching millennials

Over the past 10 years, according to Reich, $220 million has been invested into downtown through public and private donations.

Reich said that by 2020, millennials will make up approximately 50 percent of the workforce across the United States. To reach that demographic, Reich said, the city formed a Millennial Advisory Committee.

That committee is planning an event for Saturday, Oct. 27, in which attendees will be able to watch two Halloween-themed movies at the amphitheater of the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center.

SWOT analysis

Downtown business owners and stakeholders talked about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to continuing to revitalize Florence’s downtown.

Many were impressed with the collaborative efforts of all parties involved in making the downtown work. Others listed events, safety and infrastructure as strengths. Francis Marion University, Florence-Darlington Technical College and Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation were all mentioned as important donors and investors in the revitalization effort.

The consensus weakness of downtown, according to many community leaders, is a misperception that the area is unsafe or that there is nothing to do downtown, they said. Others listed internet issues in businesses and lack of knowledge about shops and opportunities in the downtown.

Reich added uncooperative property owners to the list.

“We have a lot of people that own properties in the area, but aren’t on board with the revitalization effort and won’t sell their property for fair market value,” Reich said. “So in many cases, those properties just end up sitting there.”

Business leaders also dreamed of new opportunities for Florence’s downtown in the future. The creation of a magnet school, a downtown city park, a pet park, movie theater, entertainment venue, expanded downtown living and kids amenities, including a museum and discovery center were discussed.

Reich said the city will take the ideas and votes that were placed and begin to narrow them down over the next few months.

“We will take those votes and pinpoint what we should really be working on next,” Reich said. “This is the first of many meetings to come and we’re planning to meet with the public and continue to engage the community on what they’d like to see in downtown.”

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