FLORENCE, S.C. – Since the rebranding of the Florence Center and the new 25,000-square-foot expansion took place, its growth has been exceeding expectations.

“It has been phenomenal,” said Paul Beard, general manager of the Florence Center. “Every penny spent to fund the $16 million addition was funded through hospitality tax.”

He said the Florence Center is making an economic impact on Florence County.

Beard said more than 83 events and more than 250 event days have been budgeted for this fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. Three new events – the Greater Pee Dee State Fair and Expo in September, the Jingle Bell Market in November and the Pee Dee Outdoor Classic, which was held in March – have taken place this year.

With the addition of new meeting rooms, a junior grand ballroom and other meeting space, Beard said, the center is now able to bring in more two-day conferences, such as the Jehovah Witness Conference, which is now on the books for the next five years. The United Methodist Conference returns in 2020 for a three-year run, Beard said, and a one-day Food Lion event resulted in hosting two 2-day events and two 4-day bookings.

“We are much more than a civic center,” he said. “We can now host up to three weddings simultaneously.”

He said the center can accommodate up to five events in one day. That translates into a lot of weddings, reunions, retirement parties and anniversary events for the center.

He said the center has increased its family events, too.

“We now have the problem of having to turn some down,” he said. “And that is a good problem to have.”

Some of the family-oriented events have included the Royal Hanneford Circus, Greater Pee Dee State Fair, the Pee Dee Rodeo and Sesame Street Live.

Beard said the center has had double the number of public-ticketed concerts for the past year and expects to double that number again. He said the Travis Tritt/Charlie Daniels Band concert in March was a near sellout. It has been the center’s largest event this year.

He said the state fair was on its way to being the center's biggest draw when Hurricane Florence blew in. For 2019 the fair will start on Oct. 4 and run 10 days.

“We are helping improve the quality of life for citizen with the Jingle Bell Market in November, ice skating in December and the return of the Kids Jamboree in January,” Beard said.

Coming up this month is the first Carolina Food Truck Rodeo.

The Florence Center has 24 full-time employees along with a large part-time and a third-party staff that provides security, stage hands and housekeeping and ticket takers. He said there are up to 350 individuals who by and large have other jobs and do this to have additional disposable income.

Beard said the Florence Center’s economic impact last year was $42 million.

“This year is on track to be in excess of $50 million,” Beard said.

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