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Francis Marion University Gets $10 Million Grant To Build Performing Arts Center in Downtown Florence

          Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation Awards $20 Million To Fund Two Major Florence Cultural Facilities

           FLORENCE---Francis Marion University received a $10 million grant today (Jan. 13) from Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation to build a performing arts center in downtown Florence.

          The grant is part of a multi-partnership agreement that will help transform downtown Florence into the cultural and economic center of the entire Pee Dee region.

          The public-private collaboration involves a $20 million investment in downtown Florence by Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation to build, on separate sites, a performing arts center and a new Florence Little Theatre. This is the largest grant in the history of the foundation. 

          The project includes land exchanges involving the City of Florence, Florence County, McLeod Health, Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation and Francis Marion University. 

          In a news conference held at the library, Dr. Frank B. Lee Sr., chairman of Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation, announced two $10 million grant awards to build two separate facilities along the Dargan Street corridor of downtown Florence.

          The first $10 million grant will go to FMU, which will partner with the City of Florence to build the Francis Marion University Center for the Performing Arts. This facility, estimated to cost around $17 million, will be located on 3.93 acres of land at the corner of Dargan and West Palmetto streets. 

          The second $10 million grant will be awarded to the Florence Little Theatre for construction of a new 35,000-square-foot facility on Dargan Street between Pine and Elm streets immediately north of the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Library.

          “Through a series of complex agreements that reflect a genuine interest in the community on the part of all the involved parties, Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Board of Trustees has decided to open another chapter in its efforts to revitalize the downtown area by funding these two important cultural facilities,” said Dr. Lee. “We are delighted to be involved in this partnership which we believe will bring more life to downtown Florence and jumpstart the economic development of the center city and provide a cosmopolitan environment for this area.”

          Dr. Lee recognized the efforts of the Foundation’s grants committee, which is chaired by Haigh Porter, as well as the participation of the entire board in developing the project.  

          FMU president Fred Carter said, “FMU is proud to partner with Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation and the City of Florence to expand cultural opportunities for the region. This is a compelling example of the role that cultural enrichment plays in boosting educational excellence within the community.”

          Carter said the university’s fine arts program will use the center for performances, programs and exhibits. He also emphasized that the facility will include instructional space.

          The $6 million balance will still need to be raised to fund construction of the performing arts center. These dollars are expected to come from a variety of sources, including community fund-raising.

          Both the land, currently owned by the city, and the performing arts center building will be deeded to FMU, which will act as fiduciary agent for construction and operation of the center and employ the center’s director. FMU and the City of Florence will share operational and maintenance costs. 

          A five-member governing board, three appointed by the university’s president and two by the city’s mayor, will set policy for operating the facility. The performing arts center will have space for theatrical and musical performances, office and instructional classroom space.

          It is anticipated that architects will be selected by late spring 2006 and a contractor chosen by early 2007. The completion date is projected for late summer 2008.

          The agreement between the university and the city is subject to approval by the respective bodies.

           Carter also added that the $10 million donation catapults the university’s five-year capital campaign well beyond the $30-million mark and well past its original $12 million goal.     

          Florence Mayor Frank Willis said that today’s announcement is a huge boost to the city’s plans to revitalize the downtown area and afford the city unmatched cultural venues.

          “Performing arts centers serve as anchors to economic development,” said Willis. “The performing arts center and the Florence Little Theatre will draw people from the community and beyond into downtown Florence for a range of cultural and entertainment activities. Both these facilities are crucial parts of the infrastructure that a city needs to attract both people and investment.”

          The mayor said these facilities will impact restaurants, retail spaces, parking and workforce—all of which will generate significant revenue for the local community.

          “The performing arts center will serve as a regional facility for all the arts and cultural organizations in the Pee Dee area, thereby expanding the opportunities for all our residents,” said State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, who obtained $1 million in downtown redevelopment funds which will go toward construction costs of the performing arts center.

          "McLeod Regional Medical Center is proud to remain committed to the downtown community. The vitality and value of downtown has always been important to us, and we are pleased to continue this tradition through our contribution of the two parcels of land which will help make these two projects possible," stated Rob Colones, president and chief executive officer of McLeod Health.

          “Both these new facilities will make Florence the cultural hub of northeast South Carolina,” said K.G. (Rusty) Smith, chairman of Florence County Council.   “Through theater performances, symphony concerts, ballet and other dance, art exhibits, and various types of musical events, the Florence area will be enriched with an array of cultural opportunities.”  

#109A / 1-13-06
Last Published: February 15, 2007 11:14 AM
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