Can museums revitalize Main Street? In municipalities around the country, mayors and town councils see new proof that they do. Some point to Florence County, S.C., where a new museum has sparked economic revitalization and renewed civic pride. And at $307 per square foot to build, it shows how modest means and lofty aims bring outsize results.

Located in the northeastern corner of South Carolina in its so-called Pee Dee region, the downtown museum is hailed as a magnet for “foot traffic,” said Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela, calling it “nothing short of a fantastic, Smithsonian-quality museum."

With a commanding street presence and a lush courtyard between its two linear wings, Florence County Museum welcomes patrons in a soaring, double-height lobby atrium with an elegant overhead footbridge. According to architect Scott Newman, FAIA, the 28,900-square-foot museum cost about $8.8 million to build.

The return on investment has been similarly impressive, say local leaders. The county’s bid to attract small retail and  hospitality business is advancing, bringing new jobs. Florence is a bright spot in the Pee Dee, where every county — except Florence — saw population declines over the last six years.

“It proves what we’ve long believed, that good design brings value, and that culture and arts education can be effective economic drivers,” says Scott Newman, FAIA, whose firm Cooper Robertson designed the award-winning museum alongside area firm Watson Tate Savory and exhibit designer Haley Sharpe.