|By Tucker Mitchell, Florence Morning
News, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 26, 2012--FLORENCE, S.C. -- The "Hotel Florence," linchpin of the long hoped for revitalization of Florence's old downtown, is finally under way.
Crews began preliminary work related to the demolition of portions of the hotel interior on Monday. That will pave the way for a seven- to nine-month construction process that could see the doors of the planned 53-room boutique hotel (very unofficially named "Hotel Florence") and 180-seat restaurant (a relocation of Victor's Bistro) on West Evans Street open as early as the weekend of the Darlington NASCAR race in early May.
Tim Norwood, owner/operator at Victor's and one of the partners in the group developing the project, said another member of the partnership, Gray Raines of the Raines Group, which will manage the hotel, joked last week that "he already had a bidding war going on between (NASCAR chief executive) Brian France Jr. and Rick Hendrick (of Hendrick Motorsports) for the Presidential Suite.
"It will be interesting to how that comes out," said Norwood. "But it is exciting and we hope the construction moves along quickly and we're open as soon as we hope. They are telling me May right now, but we'll see."
The $5.6 million project, which is receiving funding from the City of Florence and fiscal assistance from state and federal historic preservation-related tax credits, was slowed by all the governmental red tape the partners have had to cut through. That's not surprising, said Ray Reich, the City of Florence's downtown director.
"But, they are through it all now and they're off to the races," said Reich.
The package of incentives from the city represents an estimated $901,000 to the developer, including $476,000 in tax savings. But the city will make out pretty well, too. Properties that produce tax revenues of about $2,500 a year -- with only about $500 a year accruing to the city -- will, upon completion of the project, produce revenues of about $80,000 a year. Even with the developer being rebated 85 percent of the taxes, the pass-through revenues will still be $12,000, and because of the way the deal has been structured, all of that will go to the City of Florence. Under an earlier iteration of the incentives plan, the county would have participated in the tax revenues, as well. What's more, when the seven years of tax rebates are over, the city will receive the entire tax payment each year.
The tax incentives will not, of course, begin until the structure is complete and the investors have put in all their money.
The rest of the city grant -- $425,000 -- came from city utility funds and was used to help purchase the land. City officials said the developers already closed on one parcel and have an option on the other. The city should get the utility money back over time because increased water usage at the site. A 50-plus room hotel, city officials have noted, will almost certainly use more water than a vacant building.
The site is where the old Schofield's Hardware Building stands on the south side of West Evans, between Dargan and Irby streets. Mashburn Construction of Columbia and CMI of Florence are partnering on the renovation and construction of the hotel and restaurant.
Besides Norwood, the development partnership includes attorney Ben Zeigler, the Raines Hotel Group, architect Randy Key and Pearce Land Co. LLC.
(c)2012 the Florence Morning News (Florence, S.C.)
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