Twenty years ago, it was just a dream. Like the centers of so many other cities, Sumter’s downtown was in rough shape—a nationwide occurrence as malls proliferated, resulting in the flight of retail establishments and restaurants out to the suburbs.
However, the visionary leaders of the City of Sumter, headquartered since the mid-Eighties in the historic Sumter Opera House, weren’t going to sit back and let the deterioration continue. By the year 2000, there was a vision and a plan in place to bring back our downtown. A dozen years on, the improvement is nothing short of amazing!
Most of our citizens are aware of the festivals and other entertainment—much of it free or at nominal cost—that have been offered in our city’s center over the last decade. At the Visitor’s Center, we regularly take calls from people living an hour or more away who have heard about these exciting events and want to participate. But have you noticed the continuing physical improvements, even as we welcome new businesses (and soon, residents) to the heart of downtown?
Improvements to our downtown’s infrastructure, with new lighting, sidewalks, parking lots, traffic lights, and underground utilities, are an ongoing effort. Many businesses have upgraded their building facades, in some cases exposing and restoring beautiful historic architecture that was hidden for decades beneath the aluminum siding that was popular forty or fifty years ago. And with the help of the Main Street Society, beautiful plantings and signage have further enhanced the streetscape.
All of this has a point, and a purpose—to bring economic revitalization to our community’s central business district. In 2010, one of our thriving new dining establishments was named a “Top Ten New Attraction” by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. Our renovated Sumter County Library is among the best in the region and offers a number of great programs in addition to the staples of books, magazines, newspapers, movies and music. The James E. Clyburn Intermodal Transportation Center and Central Carolina Technical College’s Health Sciences Building are drawing people who have never before walked the streets of the original “Sumterville,” established in 1800. A new Judicial Center is under construction, and the list goes on…to a point that has to be seen to be believed.
Downtown Development Manager Howie Owens couldn’t be happier about the continuing changes. “It’s so exciting to see all of the improvements that have been made in recent years,” he says. “We are very fortunate to have a great Mayor and City Council who believe in the preservation of our historic downtown; they knew several years ago that it was important to show the pride we have in our community by preserving that history. We have folks all the time comment on the positive change that is continuing to take place, and I’m just fortunate to be able to work with our great downtown merchants and business owners, who are the lifeblood that keep it going. While much improvement has been made, there are several new projects in the pipeline, so stay tuned!” He also invites anyone who is interested in opening a business or living downtown to call the Downtown Development Office at (803) 436-2535 or (803) 436-2635. “We’re here to help,” Owens adds, “and we are passionate about the continued progress and economic development opportunities within our downtown.”
Join us and take a walk through Sumter’s revitalized historic district. It’s still a work in progress, but oh, the progress that has been made so far!