August 22, 2014

Demolition of historic Florence building back on track

Florence Trust building, from National Historic Register

Florence Trust building, from National Historic Register

A problem with a state permit has delayed the demolition of a nearly century-old downtown Florence landmark.

Crews working to demolish the Florence Trust building said Monday that they have finally received an encroachment permit they need from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) that will allow them to close a critical intersection for the project. Work was supposed to start on June 17.

Wofford Demolition owner Luke Wofford said he had received the permit on Monday and hopes to close the intersection of Evans and Irby Street on Thursday.

The city’s downtown development manager Ray Reich said the project was delayed because Wofford did not realize at first that it needed such a permit to do the work. “He’s very experienced. He’s done high-rises but he’s never had to deal with a situation where you have to close down a state street,” Reich said about Wofford. “They didn’t understand that somebody had to submit a detailed plan to DOT.”

The 97-year-old former bank and office building is being demolished to make room for a new medical college campus. Crews spent Monday removing the building’s bricks, which is not covered by the encroachment permit.

Preservationists had hoped the building could be restored, and sued to stop its demolition last year. However the Historic Florence Foundation dropped the lawsuit in February, admitting it likely lacked legal standing to stop the work because it did not own the property.

Downtown development manager Ray Reich said city officials had hoped to save the building, but it was not realistic. “There were just way too many structural issues because the roof had (collapsed) off the building for probably ten years,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Since nobody can make the numbers work to redevelop it, we decided let’s just go ahead and tear it down.”

Reich said any repairs would have required removing the building’s brick façade and floors, making restoration cost-prohibitive.The structure has been condemned as unsafe since 2006.

The site will soon be the location of a new partnership between nearby Francis Marion University and the University of South Carolina. Some USC third and fourth-year medical students will do their rotations at the new $15 million Medical and Health Sciences school with nurse practitioner students from Francis Marion.

Francis Marion does not have a timeline set for construction, according to a school spokeswoman. Reich said the city hoped to have the site clear for development by July 1, but admitted that date will likely be pushed back due to the delays.