Friday, October 31, 2014

Boutique hotels bring vibrancy to downtowns

Cities around South Carolina are finding a new opportunity for economic growth with a recent increase in the openings of downtown boutique-style hotels.

A interesting trend among these hotels is the fact they are locally owned and developed. Local entrepreneurs in Florence, Anderson and Beaufort looked to re-create the downtowns where they had grown up with their visions of these niche hotels.

Florence developer Grey Raines opened the 49-room Hotel Florence in a renovated early 20th century building in what once was the city’s main downtown shopping, dining and entertainment district. Less than five years after opening, Raines and his partners are planning an expansion of the hotel.

Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela said he saw the hotel project as a catalyst for revitalizing the city’s downtown core—a catalyst that would bring people to the area after dark.

In Beaufort, developer Matt McAlhaney said he knew there was a void in Beaufort for a downtown boutique hotel. The market for affordable hotel rooms, largely for families coming to watch basic-training graduations at Marine Depot Parris Island, was covered mostly by quality national chains. Downtown has a number of bed-and-breakfast operations that offer luxury, but focus on a different type of traveler.

“The stimulus of that one project has taken a street that was nothing but a thoroughfare and turned it into a center of commerce,” Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said of his city’s boutique hotel, City Lofts.

City Lofts was built without financial incentives from the city. “The only city investment was encouragement,” Keyserling said.

In Anderson, developer Steve Kay noted the idea for The Bleckley Inn came after the Budweiser Clydesdales visited the city. The horses were put up in the old livery stable downtown, but the trainers who worked with the horses had to leave town each night during the visit to get to their hotel room.

Kay put together three buildings that were gutted and renovated into hotel rooms. The city was able to provide a grant of $40,000 a year for five years and about $100,000 in infrastructure improvements.

Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts hailed Kay’s local connections as a major part of his business’ success.

In just the past couple of months, the City of Lake City welcomed the opening of the Inn at the Crossroads. And the City of Hartsville will welcome a new hotel in early 2015.

Read more about these local hotels in the October Uptown.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The state's economic situation

One of the state's most respected experts on the economy shares his views on the state of the economy in the October Uptown. Dr. Bruce Yandle from Clemson University has decades of perspective in watching the ebbs and flows of the state's economic growth.

A few of his observations:
  • South Carolina still has room for growth since we are still catching up from the recession.
  • South Carolina still lags the nation in per capita income growth.
  • South Carolina employment growth between fourth quarter 2012 and 2013 (latest data available) was 2.9 percent.
  • South Carolina should see stronger revenue growth in 2015.
Read the October Uptown for more details and specifics on Dr. Yandle's insights.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spotlight on cities' economic development successes

There are lots of great things going on in economic development all over the state. The October issue of Uptown focuses on several exciting success stories in cities of all sizes.

Boutique hotels are becoming an important anchor in many cities. Local entrepreneurs in Florence, Anderson and Beaufort are bringing locals and tourists alike to these downtowns.

We so often hear that economic development is a team sport. In Hartsville, the team consists of public and private partners such as Coker College, Darlington County, the local chamber of commerce, the Main Street program, the Duke Energy Center for Innovation and the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics.

The state’s largest cities are increasingly becoming anchors for the economic success of surrounding cities and towns. Greenville, Columbia and Charleston are all sparking new investment and economic activity in surrounding communities such as Travelers Rest, Cayce and Mt. Pleasant.

Economic development experts always encourage communities to find their niche and exploit it. Pickens, Fountain Inn and Fort Mill are great examples of doing just this.

Read about these cities’ economic development success stories plus learn more about the Department of Commerce’s “Just Right” campaign that is promoting the whole state as a great place for business and industry.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wrap up of Regional Advocacy Meetings

The snack basket from the road trips is almost empty which means the series of ten Regional Advocacy Meetings must have wrapped up.

More elected officials and city staff than ever before attended this year’s meetings, and our legislative staff was able to gather some important insight and input as we work through the process of identifying which legislative initiatives to pursue for 2015.

Some of the top issues that came out in every meeting involved public safety, blight, roads and infrastructure, open meetings, annexation and funding of services.

Local officials brought up lots of specific issues that our legislative staff will synthesize and research to present to the Association’s legislative committee on November 3. The committee will then make recommendations to the board which will approve the initiatives to pursue for 2015. Stay tuned for specifics in late November.

For the first time, we invited local legislators to join us at the regional meetings this year. That was a great success! Their resounding theme was they want to hear from local officials about how legislation affects their city or town. All seemed very appreciative of the invitation and the time with local officials.

Just for kicks, here are a few numbers from the Regional Advocacy Meetings:

· 350+ elected officials and staff 

· 25+ legislators 
· 10 great city venues with excellent food from local restaurants
· 200+ cities and towns represented
· 20+ hours of discussion and fellowship 
· 50+ pages of flip chart notes filled with issues and concerns
· 1450+ miles driven

For a weekly recap of the Regional Advocacy Meetings, read the blog posts from the past three Fridays. Also, visit the Association’s website for links to the meeting handouts.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Week 3 - Regional Advocacy Meetings

By Scott Slatton, Municipal Association's Legislative and Public Policy Advocate

This week’s Regional Advocacy Meetings took our staff to Port Royal, Orangeburg and Sumter with continued great turn-out by local officials and legislators. To date, 303 local officials have participated!  
In Sumter, we heard from Senators Thomas McElveen (left) and Kevin Johnson plus Representative David Weeks. All were supportive of finding a permanent solution to the Local Government Fund formula issue. 

In Port Royal, Representative Shannon Erickson reminded local officials of their essential role to keep their delegation informed of what’s important in their communities. 

At our stop in Orangeburg, Representatives Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Russell Ott and Lonnie Hosey fielded a number of questions regarding economic development. Rep. Cobb-Hunter reminded officials that economic development has to be a team effort, and Rep. Ott noted sustainable jobs should be the priority. Rep. Hosey serves on the House Transportation Study Committee, and he listened to many suggestions from local officials about streamlining DOT, fixing potholes and maintaining local roads.

Clearing blight has emerged as a priority we should continue to work on next year. In response, Association staff anticipates building on the progress we made in 2014 and pushing again for passage of the  Dilapidated Buildings Act. Also, Miriam Hair announced at the Orangeburg meeting this week that there will be a training session on code enforcement and blight mitigation issues at Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 4.

The DBA allows a circuit court judge to appoint a receiver to rehabilitate or redevelop blighted property after a town has exhausted existing code enforcement remedies to fix the problem property.

The DBA passed the state Senate in 2014 by a wide margin, but time ran out before it could pass the House. Though the bill didn’t pass, our efforts helped us build consensus among legislators so we can hit the ground running when the new legislative session begins in January.

We’ve already met with key sponsors and many of the legislators who suggested changes to the DBA, and they are satisfied with the bill that passed the Senate. In fact, several who have attended our Regional Advocacy Meetings have pledged their support for the DBA in 2015.

Clearing blight is clearly a priority for cities and towns across the state. Along with existing ordinances and rigorous enforcement of them, the DBA could be the additional tool that makes a difference in your community.