FLORENCE, S.C. -- The year 2017 was another fruitful one for downtown Florence.

Five new retail stores opened during the year along with three new restaurants, including downtown’s first micro-brewery: Local Motive. Several companies relocated their offices in the downtown area, including the beautiful new Stokes Regional Eye Center facility in the 300 block of West Evans Street and ReMax Real Estate on the second floor of Kress Corner.

The new basketball facility on Barnes Street is open, and construction began on the Hyatt Place Hotel, which will be the second hotel to locate downtown. The new Florence County Judicial Center this spring.

The Rainwater building at 142 N. Dargan St. is undergoing a major renovation, and when completed, it will house an art gallery on the first floor and other projects to be announced on the upper two floors. Other renovation projects that are under construction include condominiums and more professional office space.

The health sciences continue to create vibrancy downtown. The FMU Luther F. Carter Center for Health Sciences continues to grow, as does the Florence-Darlington Technical College health science facility on Cheves that serves more than 1,000 students. During 2017 FMU announced the purchase of the old Post Office building at the corner of South Irby and West Cheves streets. The building will be renovated to house additional health-care-related programs of FMU.

Another exciting renovation project is the Carolina Bank project at the corner of Irby and Evans. Once completed, the building will be the new headquarters of Carolina Bank. As part of the renovation, the third floor is being restored to the building, which was originally built as a Masonic Temple in 1905. In 1951 while it was serving as a Woolworth store, a fire broke out on the third floor, and Woolworth elected not to rebuild the upper floor, thus transforming the building into a two-story building. Carolina Bank is restoring the third floor of the historic building and bringing back much of the original exterior beauty that the building possessed in the early 1900s.

Sidewalk and other streetscape renovations continued during 2017, and East Evans Street received a major facelift to make room for the new hotel. The street no longer has the awkward jog at the intersection of Evans and Dargan streets, and when completed, it will provide an attractive corridor between downtown and McLeod Regional Medical Center.

This year promises to bring more new projects to the historic downtown area. Several new restaurants will be opening, and the city is very close to finalizing several private sector entertainment projects. More details will be provided once the projects are finalized.

Downtown living has become very popular, and negotiations are underway with several private sector developers on more multifamily housing projects. Urban living is a very popular trend across the country, especially among young professionals and empty nesters. As more restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues open, the demand is expected to continue to grow.

Downtown progress shows no signs of slowing down. It is full of life and moving full forward to provide more in 2018 and beyond.

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