FLORENCE, S.C. – A consulting group for the City of Florence updated neighborhood residents Monday evening on its progress to develop a plan to stabilize, revitalize and redevelop historic neighborhoods.
Consultants with APD told a crowd of more than 60 people, and several city department directors, at the Art Trail Gallery that it has compiled market data for analysis on the north, northwest and east Florence neighborhoods. This data provides an understanding of the neighborhoods for potential financial lenders and developers in neighborhoods where a lack of lending is the biggest obstacle to change.
“I don’t know where the money sources are going to come from,” APD President Jessie Wiles said. “But I do know that the information that we’re pulling together is the type of documentation that you’re going to need to get funding.”
Much focus was on the $3 million in tax dollars that will be devoted toward neighborhood projects. That money, which many acknowledge is not enough, will get things moving in what City Manager Drew Griffin said will be similar to downtown progress.
“One might be maintenance on rental properties, where we go in and take a street and try and uplift a street by creating incentives to the owners to improve those properties,” Griffin suggested. “Or take the same monies and try and move from a rental situation to a homeownership situation to create incentive and means for down payment assistance or other activities as we work with the individual homeowners.”
The city has met with lenders in a similar way it has met with residents, but they, too, are somewhat skeptical of plans—which are still developing—Griffin said; a reaction that doesn’t surprise him.
“The key is to bring that data to a baker, to a third party lender, an equity investor, even to city council,” Griffin said. “Bringing that data to them so they can see the true state of the neighborhood not the perceived or opinionated state of those neighborhoods.”
As with the first meeting held by the consulting group, feedback from the meeting Monday will be used in further developing a plan. Residential input from prior neighborhood action meetings has also been incorporated.
Plans are still somewhat non-specific at this point but will become clearer in September. With limited funds, the group says focusing on “low-hanging fruit” projects and ones with the most impact will keep development moving.
“It may just be one block of property, but it’s one block of property located in a strategic area in one of the three neighborhoods that has a high probability of being successful that can attract other types of investment to them,” Wiles said. “A project can be one block, very seldom is a project one house but it could be one retail commercial mixed use building located in a strategic area.”
Much of the initial focus will be around the $5 million in road projects for the city in the second penny sales tax, such as corridor enhancements and road widening projects. Tougher codes enforcement with possible financial incentives for homeowners and property acquisition by the city called land bank were also strategies.
The Rev. Burton Ross said housing development is something he’s worked to promote at his church, New Life Assembly, and thinks assistance from the city will help.
“If they could use that seed money, some of it or most of it, as loan money, with low interest that will really push the banks more than anything else,” Ross said. “Four years down the road, if the people they loan those dollars to are still making their payments properly, then the banks absolutely don’t have an excuse. The seed money really needs to be invested in that way to pay long term dividends.”
The city plans to hold another update meeting in August. Griffin expects City Council to have a work session on neighborhoods before then.