Greater Pee Dee Business Journal November/December 2011 : Page 33

I t started as a center of learning and information access. Saved from the prospect of ruin, the former Florence County Memorial Library once again bustles with activity, now under the care of the attorneys and staff of Turner Padget Graham & Laney, P.A. The revitalization project is an important part of the new life emerging in Florence’s downtown. Libris Develop-ment LLC’s Ben Zeigler, John Chase and Randy Key worked with development partner Pearce Land Company to bring new life to the well worn structure. According to Zeigler, serious discussions about the fate of the property began in earnest about 10 years ago. “The county put the building out for proposals and didn’t receive any,” Zeigler says. But Libris’ partners saw potential in the historic site. “We all had memories of that place,” Zeigler says. “That building had been a real source of learning and pleasure for us.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was constructed in 1925 on the site of the home of Florence’s founder, General William Wallace Harlee. Through the years, its basement held the first Florence Museum from 1936 – 1953. The building also housed the beginnings of USC– Florence, which later became Francis Marion University. According to Zeigler, the library was one of the first integrated facilities in Florence. He says title to the building was transferred from the school board to the county so it could be more easily integrated and accessible to all residents. “A lot of the great institutions in modern day Florence literally had their start in that building,” Zeigler says. But for generations of residents it held deeply personal significance as well. The library was a source of knowledge, entertainment, escape and creativity. “We have been surprised at how deep the warm feelings are for us saving this building in partnership with Libris,” Walt Barefoot, managing shareholder of Turner Padget’s Florence office, says. Residents have even stopped by to thank Barefoot for the firm’s decision to locate there. Zeigler says the building itself, now freed from its 1978 addition, holds both historical and architectural significance, though it had fallen into disrepair. “It had numerous problems from the roof on down,” Zeigler says. “It was going to be a challenge.” Several years ago, Zeigler and partners bought the building from the county with restrictions in place to preserve its architectural heritage and historic significance. Zeigler says the team created a template for purchasing and rehabilitat-ing the structure in a way that would be affordable and economically viable for future tenants. The property qualified for the New Markets Tax Credit, which in the PAST BY CHRIS WORTHY PHOTOGRAPHS BY BENTON HENRY NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2011 GREATER PEE DEE BUSINESS JOURNAL | 33

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