Significant Improvements to Its Historic Downtown
story by T.D. Rykard | photography provided by Visit Lake City, SC
Ongoing downtown building renovations and façade repairs spearheaded by the Greater Lake City Community Development Office, plus the creation and continued cultivation of multiple downtown “floral scapes” by Moore Farms Botanical Garden have positively transformed downtown Lake City’s once dated appearance. In Lake City, “revitalization” means more than physical improvements to downtown. With the birth of exciting events such as ArtFields, Fiesta Fridays, Hometown Holidays, and the upcoming inaugural Rhythm & Q’s BBQ and Live Music Competition, residents and visitors alike appreciate that revitalization is also about a cultural shift from the agricultural prosperity of the past to a vibrant, arts-centered downtown atmosphere.
The successes surrounding Lake City’s revitalization are not going unnoticed. Seth Kines, Visit Lake City SC’s Executive Director, says that he feels that “Lake City has arrived on not only the national stage but the international stage as well!” Coming on the heels of being named the “Best Small Town Cultural Scene” by USA Today 10 Best Reader’s Choice in 2018, Lake City has recently been named one of the best places to visit in May by Travel + Leisure magazine! Mentioned along with notable international locations like Botswana, Monaco, London, and Stockholm, Kines says “It’s thrilling to see Lake City gain international recognition as a recommended travel destination. This clearly demonstrates the power of small-town revitalization to create powerful positive change, both economically and culturally.” Another indicator that Lake City has hit the international radar came with early April’s new transatlantic flights between Charleston and London. Kines lured a group of a dozen members of the British Guild of Travel Writers to Lake City for a tour of historic downtown, and a traditional southern BBQ lunch at Piggyback’s BBQ and Catfish. This fun, enthusiastic group of travel writers couldn’t resist posing in front of the latest public mural in downtown Lake City’s ever-growing collection, an untitled creation by artist Donald Walker. Kines also offered an update on some of the most recent developments with Lake City’s continuing progress.
Sauls Street, which runs parallel to East Main Street, has become a target for downtown revitalization with last year’s opening of TRAX Visual Art Center. This “Sauls Street Renaissance” popped into high gear with the February 2019 opening of downtown Lake City’s newest restaurant, Piggyback’s BBQ and Catfish, located at 116 Sauls Street. Piggyback’s was the winner of the first annual Lake City Launchpad business competition, with a grand prize of $55,000 towards opening a business in an identified building in downtown Lake City. After years of serving as vendors on the local festival and event circuit, Piggyback’s owners Mitchell and Shannon Sims decided to enter the inaugural Lake City Launchpad to make their dream of owning a “brick and mortar” restaurant become a reality. They are currently serving plenty of happy customers in their new location. Another recent addition to Sauls Street is A’bloom Florals and Events, Inc. A’bloom’s services include event planning, event rentals, and floral design. Downtown Lake City is well-known for its historic venues, and now owner Merry Floyd and the A’bloom staff make throwing a successful local event that much easier! Finally, opening in April 2019, just in time for the 7th annual ArtFields, Lake City’s 9-day art competition and festival, will be a brand new restaurant that sports the whimsical moniker, Snax. Snax will offer ice cream, frozen yogurt, and hot dogs for fun family dining. Located at the corner of Sauls and North Acline Streets, Snax is sure to be a hot spot with penny candy days, “Kids Eat Free Tuesdays,” and Saturday Night Shagging. ArtFields Marketing Manager Roberta Burns might be on to something when she said that Sauls Street is soon to be famous for “Snax, TRAX, and Piggyback’s!”
Downtown Lake City’s historic venues have also seen needed improvements during ongoing revitalization efforts. The Stables at The Inn at the Crossroads has been renovated to include new flooring throughout the 8,000 square foot venue that was once the McClam Livery Stables, a dance floor, and a full audio-visual system. The Inn and its in-house restaurant, Crossroads on Main, have recently reopened after a full-scale renovation that included all guest rooms, and expansion and redesign of the restaurant and bar so more customers may be comfortably served. Crossroads on Main’s “facelift” is particularly impressive. The restaurant and bar have a stylish, modern appearance, and folding glass doors in the bar area now open to the outdoor Courtyard at The Inn, which features outdoor dining and several sofas and chairs available for guests to sit and enjoy cocktails and conversation under the stars! To accommodate future growth and continued improvements, unoccupied buildings adjacent to The Stables have been acquired to expand the meeting and event rental opportunities available at The Inn at the Crossroads, located at 128 West Main Street. Approximately 80 parking spaces will be added as well. Downtown’s largest venue, the 22,000 square foot Ragsdale Old Building (affectionately known as The ROB) will sport a brand new parking lot that, in addition to over 250 parking spaces, will include 35 RV parking spots that will soon be available for rental. The ROB is the go-to event venue for all large-scale events in Lake City, whether that be a private function to include weddings, receptions, and reunions, or public events like trade shows, art exhibitions, and the upcoming Rhythm & Q’s BBQ and Live Music Competition scheduled for October 18 and 19, 2019.
The old Lake City Plaza on West Main is being transformed into The Continuum, a 46,000 square foot facility that will serve as a regional center for education and training in innovative, technical skills and workforce development. The Continuum is a collaborative effort from Francis Marion University, Florence-Darlington Technical College, and the Darla Moore Foundation. Jeanette Altman, former Principal of J. Paul Truluck Creative Arts and Science Magnet School in Lake City, has been named Executive Director of The Continuum. Courses offered will lead to two- and four-year degrees, and classes are slated to begin in fall of 2019.
Finally, the staff at ArtFields has moved out of their space on Main Street, and are settling in at their new office space located on Sauls Street next to TRAX Visual Art Center, one of two art galleries currently located in downtown Lake City. This has opened up the opportunity for a brand new Visitors Center to move into the old ArtFields space at 110 East Main Street. This May, visitors to Lake City will have a place to inquire about area attractions and enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee! Hours for the Visitors Center are Monday thru Friday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Executive Director Seth Kines and the Visitors Center staff cordially invite you to visit Lake City to see what all the buzz is about!
Contact the Visitors Center at 843-374-0534 with questions about your stay in Lake City, or for assistance in crafting a travel itinerary. Stay informed about attractions, events, and festivals in Lake City at visitlakecitysc.com.
British Travel Writers with Lake City Creative Alliance staff members, photo by Colleen Troy