Ribbon Cutting with Florence Chamber Held at Clarion Inn and Suites

by Ardie Arvidson

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting at Clarion Inn and Suites at 1829 W. Lucas St. in Florence on Wednesday, marking its new chamber membership. Chamber ambassadors joined the staff at Clarion for the celebration.

The hotel was purchased in August 2018 by Gary M. Hodgins of Myrtle Beach, president, and his partner, Stephen Lam of New Jersey.

On Oct. 31, the hotel became a Clarion Inn and Suites. It was most recently a Ramada Inn.

The 224-room hotel features three conference rooms with a 300-person capacity when opened up as one; it also has a fitness center, courtyard with pool, bar and restaurant.

There are about 30 staff members. Tameka Ham is the assistant general manager.

The hotel is in the process of a two-phase renovation project. Phase I, which has been completed, included an upgrade to the lobby, restaurant, bar area, pool, fitness center, guest laundry facilities and west-wing guest rooms. Seventy-two rooms have been renovated.

Phase II, which is projected to be completed at the end of 2020, includes upgrade of all guest rooms, completion of 51 suites, refinishing of the parking lot and courtyard landscape update.

Hodgins said owning a hotel was on his “bucket list” of things to do. He said he was a chief financial officer in hotels for about 40 years. He is a Vietnam veteran. His partner, a Vietnamese, is a CPA. Hodges said they met when his partner worked for an outside audit firm for hotels he worked for.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Florence Chamber Breakfast to Focus on Florence County

by Matthew Christian

Florence County will be the focus of the 2020 Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.

Newly elected Florence County Council Chairman Willard Dorriety will be keynote speaker at the event. Dorriety was elected chairman of the council in January.

The hour-long program will feature updates on current and upcoming Florence County projects and programs, including progress in economic development, infrastructure enhancement and other critical efforts to grow the county.

“As always, we are expecting a very large crowd of business and community leaders to attend,” said chamber President Michael Miller. “This program has been popular because it offers timely and insightful updates on a broad array of important issues for Florence County businesses and residents.”

The mission of the Florence Chamber is to “promote and enhance a favorable business climate and improve the quality of life to make Florence the best community in which to live and operate a business.”

The breakfast is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 28, at the Florence Center. Doors will open for the breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and the program will start around 7:50 a.m.

The breakfast is open to the public. All those attending must register prior to the event. Room seating is limited.

Tickets are $20 each and tables are also available by calling the chamber offices at 843-665-0515 or by going to flochamber.com.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Primary Learning Center Joins Greater Florence Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

Primary Learning Center of Florence, located at 600-A Pamplico Highway, recently joined the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. A ribbon cutting was held on Wednesday with chamber ambassadors to celebrate.

Brittney Jefferson, owner/director, cut the ribbon.

Primary Learning Center is an untraditional day-care-type facility for children. It offers short-term, after-school tutoring for children up to 12 years of age.

Jefferson said the center has flexible hours.

“It is our flexibility that sets us apart,” she said.

Jefferson said the center operates two shifts and normally closes at 8 p.m. Although, she said, it has stayed up to midnight with a child. She said the center is there for parents who want a date night, who have to work late or attend night meetings.

Children who come after school receive a snack and are offered supper. The center sees that children do their homework, too.

“Our mission is to cater to the working mom, the modern-day mom, even if she is a stay-at-home mom,” Jefferson said.

She said stay-at-home mothers need time to themselves, too.

She has a staff of six.

Jefferson started out after college working in education at Brockington Elementary School in Timmonsville. She was a psychology major. She enjoyed working with children and decided to start her own center for taking care of children.

The center opened in October and normally has about 30 children on any given day with a capacity to care for 50 children.

For the full article on SC Now, click here.

Tim Scott Calls for Objective Approach to Senate Impeachment Trial

by Matthew Christian

Sen. Tim Scott on Friday called for civility and a fact-based approach to the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Scott was commenting during a meet-and-greet event in Florence.

Scott spoke for over 40 minutes at the meeting, addressing the impeachment trial at the very beginning before taking questions and in response to the last question asked.

He said he was able to appear in Florence due to a planned delay in the impeachment trial. The Senate elected to begin the trial next Tuesday rather than on Friday because of Martin Luther King Day on Monday.

“It worked out where I had more time to come back home,” Scott said. “Anytime you have chance to come back home, you should say, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’”

Scott also said that more time spent in Washington makes him want to kiss the ground in South Carolina.

He said he was scheduled to speak at a school in Myrtle Beach on Friday, and things worked out for him to appear in Florence as well.

Scott was also scheduled to visit Vital Aging in Kingstree after the Florence stop.

At the end of the question-and-answer session, Scott was asked if the impeachment was a hoax.

“Is impeachment a hoax?” Scott asked. “I’m not sure of the definition of a hoax, but what I will tell you over the next two to four weeks, we will find out lots of information about the fact patterns that either do exist or don’t exist.”

He said his theory was a very simple one: Look for the truth and put aside all partisanship. He called for an objective process not littered with personal agendas to decide the fate of not only Trump but of the greatest democracy the world has ever seen.

“If we will take that approach to the next four weeks, I think that we will come up with a pretty healthy position and one that can be articulated and supported by facts,” Scott said. “If you can’t do that, then you’re in the wrong job.”

One of the more important challenges America faces, Scott said, is the challenge of civility and fairness.

He said he had recently appeared on a TV show where he was asked how bad things are in America in terms of race relations.

“I thought to myself, ‘How long have you been alive? Like 12 days?’” Scott said.

He said he was born in the heart of Dixie, the state of South Carolina. Scott added that he had run against Strom Thurmond’s son in the place where the Civil War started — Fort Sumter guards Charleston Harbor — and won election to the House of Representatives.

“You’re going to tell me nothing has changed in 50 years?” Scott continued. “Are you smoking crack? I mean, seriously, I don’t understand how someone could have such audacious, salacious, inconsistent with reality comments. That frustrates the dickens out of me.”

He was appointed to the Senate on Dec. 17, 2012, by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the seat of the retiring Jim DeMint. Scott was elected to finish the remainder of DeMint’s term in 2014 and elected for a full term in 2016.

Scott indicated that he plans to run again in 2022 but probably will not run after that. He said he plans to return to private business.

Prior to being appointed to the Senate, Scott was the representative for South Carolina’s Congressional District 1, which included most of the coast of the state. He was elected to the seat in 2010 over the son of Strom Thurmond, a longtime senator from South Carolina.

Scott was re-elected in 2012.

He ran for and was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2008, serving until his election to Congress.

Prior to the South Carolina House of Representatives, Scott was chairman of the Charleston County Council in 2007-2008.

Scott was elected to the Charleston County Council in a 1995 special election and reelected in 2004.

Scott was born and raised in North Charleston, graduating from R.B. Stall — he said “Go Warriors” during his speech — and Charleston Southern University with a degree in political science.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Young Professionals Team Up With Dolce Vita for the First Social of 2020

Young Professionals held their first social of 2020 on Thursday, January 16. Thank you to Dolce Vita Café & More for hosting this great event. The ambience, venue, refreshments, and spirits really allowed for a wonderful evening. We want to extend gratitude to our YP members who came and kicked off the new year with us. We had 40 young professionals in attendance and we know the number of those involved will continue to grow. This year we have big plans for all of our events and want everyone to be involved.

Interested in becoming a member? Contact us at ypflorence@gmail.com or call Kristin at the Chamber at (843) 519-0933.

We are looking forward to seeing our members Thursday, February 20 for our Lunch and Learn featuring Knowledge and Board opportunities to serve on Non-Profit Boards.

The second gallery are pictures taken by Phillip Guyton of True Light Photography.

Junior Leadership Now Accepting Applications

Junior Leadership Florence County is an eight-month program in which area high school sophomores and juniors are empowered to become trustees of the Florence County community. Throughout the eight months of the program students will learn a variety of valuable leadership skills including time management, community issue awareness, and business ethics. The program also provides training in the area of personal development, skills training, volunteering opportunities and team building. Another benefit of the program is the opportunity to gain new contacts through networking and relationship building. The JLFC program is presented by the Florence County Extension Service, The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, and Francis Marion University with the support from local businesses to provide professional personnel.

Junior Leadership will be accepting applications until Sunday, March 15.

To find the application, click here.

Chamber and FMU Host MLK, Jr. March

On Thursday, January 16, the MLK, Jr. observance at Francis Marion University started out with a reception at the Wallace House – home to FMU President Dr. Luther F. Carter – before a candle-lit march went from the home to McNair Auditorium for a series of performances and speeches that lead up to keynote speaker The Rev. Dr. Calvin E. Robinson Jr. or Trinity Baptist Church in Florence.

To see the full gallery of images on SC Now, click here.

Junior Leadership Participates in Agribiz Day

On Wednesday, January 15, the Junior Leadership Florence Class went to the Florence Center to experience the Agribusiness Day. Kate Nobles and Arbor One Farm Credit planned a fun, interactive, educational trade show scavenger hunt for the students. This allowed the students to get involved, learn about agriculture, and those who are involved.  McCauley Frierson with Clemson University, along with Clemson students did an admissions presentation. The Clemson students also talked to the students about the resources with Clemson. Special thanks to all that were involved to make this an eventful and educational experience. Without our sponsors who are highly involved and love the program as much as the students do, this would not have been successful. The Junior Leadership Florence is represented by the partnership between the Clemson Extension 4-H, the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, and Francis Marion University.


Leadership Florence’s Social Issues Day

On Tuesday, January 14, the Chamber’s Leadership Florence Class of 2020 held Social Issues Day.

The 42-member class visited, toured and heard from more than 20 area non-profits agencies and social service providers in the Florence area. Agencies included: Lighthouse Ministries, the Literacy Council, Naomi Project, SNAC, Youth Mentors of the Pee Dee, House of Hope, Help 4 Kids, American Red Cross, Man 2 Man, All 4 Autism, the Manna House, United Way, Tenacious Grace, The Florence Human Society, Harvest Hope Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Housing Authority and the CARE House.

Each respective agency gave a detailed summary of their respective organization and how to donate, volunteer or get involved.

Breakfast was sponsored and catered by Venus and lunch was sponsored by The Carolinian.

$62.5M Development to Include Apartments, Town Homes, Hotel, Office Building, Parking Deck and Park

by Matthew Christian

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.

To read the full story on SC Now, click here.