Downtown Florence

The Hotel Florence will be celebrating its first anniversary this May and is viewed as one of the most important private investment projects in downtown Florence.

FLORENCE, S.C. — Widely seen as the catalyst of private investment coming into downtown, the Hotel Florence will mark its one-year anniversary with thanks to those who came before it and praise to those who continue to come downtown in a time span that saw much change.

The adjacent Barringer building came online in December with Kate McAllister’s Mainstream Boutique on the ground floor and Corey E. Phillips’ Edward Jones office on the second floor next door to the Raines Hospitality offices.

The Waters building, on North Dargan, is expected to be complete by late April. That would represent a blockbuster year in downtown for the growing Raines Hospitality Inc. that co-owner Grey Raines says is helping grow downtown.

“We have built our own clientele, and that is very important for us from a success standpoint, that we’re not just seeing overflow from the hotels at the interstate,” Raines said. “We’re seeing a Hotel Florence clientele. They want that unique experience they desire from a very good restaurant like Victor’s, a full-service bar with great menu items, and every month things have only improved.”

Raines and others acknowledge the substantial public investment made by the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation and Francis Marion University along with the city and county but notes that those public anchors helped spur him and others to invest the private dollars.

“We’re getting strong, established Florence companies and relocating close to 60 people to downtown Florence,” Raines said. “It’s only going to increase the level of traffic to Florence with people eating lunch, working at law firms and investment  firms. It will have huge impact.”

Hilliard Lyons, Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd P.A., and King, Love & Smith Law Firm are declared tenants of the building so far.

Once Waters is up and running, the group that developed the hotel — including Victor’s Bistro owner Tim Norwood, lawyer Ben Zeigler, developer Chris Scott and architect Randy Key will move forward with developing the Royal Knight building at the corner of West Evans and Dargan streets. That project is still developing but will feature an extension of the Hotel Florence and possibly another restaurant.

Dr. John Keith, a pioneer of downtown redevelopment, said success continues for his properties on South Dargan Street, including his brother Josh’s Dolce Vita Chocolate and Wine shop and 1031 American Grill that will open on April 12 in Keith’s property through a three-member partnership.

“You need a mixture of unique things in your downtown to make it thrive,” Keith said. “You need your restaurants and retail and big supporting anchors like we have. Whenever you travel around the United States and see downtowns, in general you have the mom-and-pop businesses that are sort of the heartbeat of the downtown area, and we’re seeing that now.”

Ray Reich, Florence Downtown Development Manager, said as the downtown continues to build this foundation of restaurants, retail and office space, and over the next two years, he expects to see the residential push.

“The rest of 2014 you’ll see these big projects under construction, a lot of facade activity on North Dargan, and you’re going to see the transformation of those facades and continuation of promotions downtown,” Reich said. In 2015, the focus will be on housing and retail, he added.

A high-rise project is still in discussion but would bring 85 to 100 units to downtown, an area that in the next several years could support more than 500 residents, Reich said. “There’s certainly the capacity to get 300 to 500 people living downtown,” Reich said. “One thing we’ve got that’s a bit of challenge is we don’t have a lot of large multi-story buildings that lend themselves to creating housing.”

One of those residencies might be in the Kuker/Kress building, across from the Royal Knight building that the New Florence LLC development team is still in the design phase of transforming the space into a business/residential/retail/restaurant development that is widely expected to be as impactful as the Hotel Florence within the next two years.

With 50,000- and 60,000-square-foot buildings connected, “it’s a very unusual project ... and what we can do and not do and what we can infringe upon and not infringe upon,” said former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, one of the members. “It’s not just one building but a collective group of buildings, and we want to make sure we don’t impact their historical nature.”

New Florence LLC includes Ard, restaurateur Dale Barth, attorney Kevin Barth, real estate agent Ken Jackson, businessman Jim Brown and businessman Frank Chisholm. The results of their $10 million investment will be a 200-seat restaurant, a sauce bottling facility, a sweet potato vodka micro-distillery, 15 to 18 loft apartments, office space, a public atrium and a rooftop terrace.

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