By J. Todd Davis,
Mayor-City of Dillon
As we recognize and celebrate Labor Day, 2017, in Dillon, SC, my attention is drawn back to Main Street in Dillon and how we are addressing this major challenge. The latest edition of the “UPTOWN”, a publication by The Municipal Association of South Carolina, once again got my focus on Main Street. Yes, it’s a challenge, A Big One! I have come to the realization that Dillon County can land as many industries, distribution centers or whatever else, and we will never reach our potential without a vibrant downtown. Have you noticed a change since Wyman-Gordon started their operation off I-95? This isn’t a knock on Wyman-Gordon, but have you noticed any new homes being built, or any new small businesses popping up on Main Street? Me either. We need to entice those managers at Wyman-Gordon to want to stay and live in our hometown. I’ve been told the Inland Port will transform Dillon. I hope so, but I’m not sure that will be the case just yet. I do not think a “BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME” attitude toward the Inland Port will work. Surely, good things will come with the Port, but just not good enough to revitalize Main Street on its own.
One article in “The Uptown” stated this “Four Years ago, leading employers in the City of Hartsville threatened to leave because the atmosphere of the city made it difficult to recruit workers”. It went on to say that Hartsville lacked shopping, entertainment and general liveliness downtown. Now this is a City with Coker College and Sunoco on or just off Main Street! Then Hartsville got busy! Four years later Hartsville has more than 40 new businesses. Most all the empty store fronts are occupied, and more importantly, success has rippled to other areas of the city. I know this because I visit Hartsville often.
A few months ago, the City Manager and I visited Florence and met with their Downtown Development Manager. Ray Reich was generous enough to share The City of Florence’s plan to revive their Main Street which was recently called “a drunk too far gone to be saved” and others considered too risky for private investment. You see Florence failed three times in the past to revitalize the city’s downtown. Things are also changing in Florence so we piggybacked off their plan as far as incentives and code enforcement.
Let me tell you, the people of Dillon, where we stand currently on Main Street. Years ago during my first term in 2004, the city finished the last phase on the Main Street project that involved streetscapping. I like to call it the bone structure laid out by then Mayor Salley H. McIntyre. The landscaping was done, the electrical lines were laid on Main and other things like the stop lights were changed out. The city invested money along with some grant funding to achieve this.
Just recently, the city passed the preservation tax credits. Not only did the city adopt this, but we also got the county and the school board to pass this tax incentive. Basically, it means that if a property owner in the Historic District of Dillon, which includes most of Main Street, improves their structure by a certain amount all three entities will freeze property taxes for eight years after the completion. That is a nice incentive in place for investors. Secondly, we increased the number of facade grants this year. For any improvements made from the front of the building to the curb, the city will reimburse the owner 50% up to a maximum of $3000. We also passed and budgeted for two “Upfit Grants” this fiscal year. An upfit grant can be used to restore and beautify the property. The city will contribute up to $15,000 per grant with a maximum of two grants funded this year. We are seeing some interest in these incentives and some have applied. It’s my hope these grants will all be exhausted this year. Currently, a majority of these grants are still available.
The last change I will address for now is the new Appearance and Maintenance ordinance recently passed. The A &M ordinance should go a long way in preventing property from deteriorating on Main Street before it’s condemned. The city will enforce this ordinance to the fullest extent. The title alone is fairly self-explanatory. We want to work all we can with existing property owners to maintain their property. It’s just an enforcement mechanism when things break down. I don’t see that happening. We want to be a partner not an adversary with our Main Street property holders. It’s just not fair for a property owner to restore their building and let an adjunct building decline to the point it drags down property values. See the old Evans pharmacy on Main Street.
I would like to close in saying that The City will be looking to hire a City Planner. We are also looking to work with Clemson University on a parking study. The City of Darlington spoke to me about this. The study is worth a look. There have been a lot of discussions concerning downtown living. We have some beautiful buildings with second floors that would be ideal for housing. The schools need housing; industry needs housing also. What better way to get downtown more active than more foot traffic?
We are seeing some activity downtown. A business renovated their store and is opened. A great little retailer on East Main Street recently opened. I noticed today how nice the new clothing retailer is going to look on the corner of Main and 301 in that vacant building. I am very grateful for the input from the Downtown Revitalization Committee that recently formed. Soon this committee will need to transform into a Downtown Merchants Association. I really look forward to the holiday season and what’s in store for Main Street this year. It’s going to be exciting this Christmas season. Ideas are always welcomed. If you have any please share them with us. Like the saying goes we do not have the corner on ideas! A vibrant downtown will be welcomed by all those here now and those to come.
By J. Todd Davis,