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Sen. Leatherman Announces $7 Million Appropriation for Downtown Francis Marion Performing Arts Center; Seven Appointed to PAC Governing Board

    FLORENCE---The final piece of the puzzle for construction of a downtown Florence performing arts center fell into place today (June 28) with the announcement by Sen. Hugh Leatherman of a $7 million state appropriation to Francis Marion University.

    In a news conference held at the future site of the facility, Sen. Leatherman said he was delighted that the S.C. General Assembly, in the recently passed state budget, provided the necessary funds to help with construction of the estimated $17 million facility.  

     “The performing arts center will serve the entire Pee Dee area, thereby expanding the cultural opportunities for all our residents,” said Sen. Leatherman, who earlier had obtained $1 million in downtown redevelopment funds for the project.

    FMU will partner with the City of Florence to build the facility to be named the Francis Marion University Center for the Performing Arts. This building will be located on 3.93 acres of land at the corner of Dargan and West Palmetto streets. 

    Also announced was the seven-member governing board, four appointed by the university and three by the city, which will set policy for operating the facility.

    Ken Jackson, chairman of FMU’s board of trustees, announced the university’s representatives on the board. They are FMU President Fred Carter, who will serve as chairman; Marva Smalls, executive vice president of public affairs and chief of staff of Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Noggin and Spike TV; Ben Zeigler, a Florence attorney; and Larry Anderson, chairman of FMU’s Fine Arts Department.

    Smalls, headquartered in New York, is the chief administrative officer for three networks and their ancillary businesses, coordinating and directing financial resources, personnel, and facilities for their New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and international offices. Zeigler is a partner with Haynsworth, Sinkler, Boyd law firm and is chairman of the Francis Marion Trail Commission. Anderson is an associate professor of graphic design, printmaking and drawing at FMU.

    Florence Mayor Frank Willis announced the city’s members of the board. They are Billy D. Williams, Florence City Councilman; Shirley R. Imbeau, long-time community arts activist; and Michael O. Blakeley, senior vice president and city executive with Sentry Bank and Trust.

    Williams has served on the Florence City Council since 1998 and presently is mayor pro tem. He is a current member of the Downtown Development Board, the Boys and Girls Club, and the advisory board of the National League of Cities. He is a past member of the National League of Cities Board of Directors and a past president of the State Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.

    A native of Toronto, Canada, Imbeau has lived in Florence since 1980 and has served on the steering committee for the Center for the Arts and on the board of the Women’s Symphony Guild. An accomplished photographer and former substitute teacher, she is a member of the Junior League, the Forget-Me-Not Garden Club and the missions board of the Church at Sandhurst.

    Blakeley has been with Sentry Bank and Trust since 2000. Prior to that he was with Wachovia Bank for 10 years and South Carolina National Bank for 20 years.  A native of Andrews, he served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He is active in numerous community organizations, including serving as treasurer of the Florence Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Downtown Florence Ad-Hoc Task Force.

    Carter said he was thankful to Sen. Leatherman for securing the additional construction funds. “This is another example of how the senator’s influence is benefiting the people of the Pee Dee region,” he said. “This facility will play a pivotal role in boosting cultural enrichment and educational excellence throughout the region.”

    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 will employ the center’s director. FMU and the City of Florence will share operational and maintenance costs. 

    The performing arts center will have space for theatrical and musical performances, and office and instructional classroom space. The completion date is projected for late summer 2008.

    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.

    “The performing arts center will draw people from the community and beyond into downtown Florence for a range of cultural and entertainment activities,” said Willis. “It will become part of the infrastructure that the city needs to attract both people and investment.”

    In January, FMU received a $10 million grant from Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation toward building a performing arts center in downtown Florence. That was part of a multi-partnership agreement that included land exchanges involving the City of Florence, Florence County, McLeod Health, Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation and Francis Marion University. 

#206 / 6-28-06
Last Published: February 8, 2007 8:49 AM
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