Wukela: Downtown growth continuing
Multi-use facility and parking deck planned for site of soon-to-be demolished Florentine
BOB SLOAN Editor
Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela has both a vision and a plan to continue the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.
Wukela told members of the Florence Rotary Club that numerous projects are in the works, including a multi-use facility with a parking deck where the Florentine Building now stands, during a speaking engagement Aug. 5, at Victors Restaurant.
The city is in the process of demolishing the Florentine Building, which it purchased in June of last year for $1.85 million. The Florentine is located at the corner of West Evans and North Coit streets.
“We anticipate that there will be a major— a very significant— mixed-use development that will occur there that will involve retail and business commercial as well as residential and owner-occupied residential,” said Wukela, in his third term as mayor. “We anticipate that coming in the future, and we think that’s going to be significant development.”
He said the city plans to invest in streetscape work and a food hub near the development.
Target Contractors has already cordoned off the sidewalks around The Florentine to begin the process of demolishing the building. A section of West Evans Street will be closed off beginning Sept. 9.
The Mayor announced the plans for the multi-use facility and parking deck as part of his explanation of the redevelopment process. He cited a conversation with Greenville Mayor Knox White. He said White told him the communities see retail developments as the first part of the revitalization process.
“The reality is, retail is the last thing that comes,” said Wukela.
He went on to explain that there is a cycle in the revitalization process. He said it begins with public investments, followed by private investments and then retail.
He cited the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center and the Florence County Museum as public investments.
“Those sorts of nonprofit investments bring people downtown, but they don’t stay,” said Wukela. “They come to the performance and they leave.”
Private investments, the second phase of the cycle, take the form of restaurants and hotels, such as like Victor’s and Hotel Florence.
“But you’re still not a retail,” insisted Wukela. “The next thing that tends to happen is you get residential, and that happens to be kind of the phase we’re in right now.”
Pointing to the Emerson apartments, Kress complex and condos on North Dargan Street, the mayor said he anticipates residential developments in the downtown area to accelerate in coming years.
To close out his presentation, Wukela spoke on what he sees as the city’s most pressing issue – roads.
He said the city has approximately 100 miles of road to maintain and has no guaranteed source of revenue to handle the upkeep and maintenance requirements.
"That's as much as one million dollars per month per road just in maintenance," he said. "That’s a very expensive liability hanging over our head and we’ve got to address it”
He said the city is well aware that many of the roads are nearing or have already passed the point when repairs are needed.
Wukela offered a pair of suggestions to resolve the problem. The first, which he said he prefers, is to work with the county to get a larger share of the county penny sales tax revenue. The city currently generates two-thirds of the sales tax revenue but receives only 20 percent of the revenue.
The second suggestion is to pass a law which would allow the city to charge a penny sales tax of its own.