Stephen J. Wukela

Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela speaks Monday afternoon at a city council meeting.

FLORENCE, S.C. –  The Florence City Council took the first step Monday afternoon in setting out plans for the construction of a $62.5 million mixed-used development to be located across West Evans Street from the Florence City Center.

By unanimous consent, the council approved the first reading of Bill No. 2020-06, which approves the conveyance of property and the conditional grant and development agreement with the developer. 

The project is formally designated as Project Urban Square in the agreement.

The grant agreement also establishes the developer of the property as Styx Florence Land LLC. It adds that the developer will be led by a team of David and Jule Tuttle. 

Styx Florence Land plans to develop and construct a multifamily apartment building, a professional office building, a hotel, and "high-density residential units" which probably would be town homes or condos. 

The project is expected to include 150 new apartments, according to Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela. The nearby Emerson apartments have approximately 100 units. 

Wukela also added the $62.5 million figure probably will increase. 

"This is without question the largest single development the city has engaged in, and it's complicated in the sense that it really involves several sub-developments when you parse out the townhomes and the apartments," Wukela said. "There are still things to be filled in."

He added there were still things to be revealed later, such as the name of the hotel and the tenant of the office building. 

The project is expected to create hundreds of construction jobs as well as 150 to 200 new, well-paying jobs in the downtown area, according to the grant agreement. 

The private investment in the property will total approximately $50 million.

In the agreement, the city agrees to convey the property to the developer for no monetary consideration. Part of the property being conveyed is subject to a lease with Elite Euro, an automotive repair garage that expires in Nov. 2022. 

The agreement notes the city is working to terminate the lease but adds the property may be conveyed still subject to the lease. 

The investment is expected to increase the taxable value of the property by $41 million as well as result in governmental fees, including water and sewer fees – the city agrees to design, construct and install the systems – hospitality and accommodations taxes, business license fees and building permits. 

The city also agrees to construct a public parking garage at a cost of up to $11 million. 

Wukela indicated the parking garage would have 300 spaces and that there would be other parking available on the site. 

However, the agreement indicates the garage must contain no less than 250 spaces with 400 total public parking spaces in the development. 

The city also agrees to design, construct, maintain and operate street and pedestrian lighting, landscaping and sidewalks along West Evans Street, Coit Street, N.B. Baroody Street and McQueen Street similar to the improvements in the 100 and 200 blocks of West Evans Street. The city also agrees to design, construct, maintain and operate a 1.5 acre park on the site. 

The agreement notes that the total cost of the public amenities shall be between $1 million and $1.5 million. 

The town homes or condos also are eligible for a 50% tap fee grant program for water and sewer tap fees. 

The city also agrees to cooperate in Styx's efforts to obtain benefits under the South Carolina Abandoned Building Revitalization Act. 

The total amount of incentives provided by the city to Styx cannot exceed the value received by the city, according to the agreement. 

The agreement calls for Styx to present the city with a site plan – Wukela indicated there were three to choose from – by Feb. 1 and that the city and Styx will agree upon a site plan by Feb. 29, the date of the land transfer. 

A construction schedule is as follows: 10 months after Feb. 29, Styx will begin construction on the apartments; 60 days later the city will begin construction on the parking deck; by March 1, 2021, Styx will obtain a commitment from a hotelier and will submit site plans to the city; by Jan. 1, 2022, Styx will begin construction on the hotel.

Construction on the parking garage will be substantially completed by 12 months after construction begins. The apartment building is expected to be substantially complete by July 1, 2022, the hotel by July 1, 2023 and the whole project is expected to be substantially complete from the date five years and 10 months after Feb. 29, 2020. 

The bill probably will be before the council on second reading in February. 

Government and Politics Reporter

I cover the city of Florence, the county of Florence, the state legislative delegation of Florence County and surrounding areas, and the federal delegation representing the Pee Dee for the Morning News.

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