Breaking Things Down on the Growth of Downtown Georgetown

October 2023
Written By: 
Ashley Daniels
Photographs by: 
Amanda Bouknight

What’s new and what’s coming to a revitalized Front Street

Historic Georgetown is experiencing revitalization for a bright future. Local officials are welcoming a new, 56-room upscale hotel, in addition to other amplifiers of economic strength.

There’s something in the air in historic downtown Georgetown, South Carolina – a breath of fresh air up and down the live oak-lined streets by way of a recent boom of new restaurants, businesses, even a boutique hotel opening.

The charm and attraction of this waterfront town is nothing new, as it consistently captures the attention of national publications, but you can’t help noticing that this chapter in Georgetown’s story is significant for its future.

Georgetown, the third oldest city in South Carolina, following Charleston and Beaufort, and the second largest seaport in the state (again, behind Charleston) dates back to 1729 pre-Revolutionary War, when Georgetown was king of growing and exporting indigo and became an official port of entry. By the late 1700s, rice replaced indigo as the chief commodity crop in the antebellum era. Rice plantation owners soon became aristocrats, leading to the formation of the Winyah Indigo Society. In fact, Georgetown County was reported as the wealthiest per capita in the former colonies as of 1840, thanks to the port exporting the most rice of any port in the world. Later, the timber industry took over the town.

In more recent unfortunate history, 10 years ago, on September 25, 2013, an early morning fire destroyed seven buildings, damaged one, and displaced 10 businesses along the 700 block of Front Street. But Georgetown and her people quickly rebounded.

“You know, it’s coming up on the 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary War,” says Beth Stedman, president and CEO of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce. “And one thing I would say about the City of Georgetown is, not only is it warm and welcoming, but the people there are really resilient.

“They love their city and they’re passionate about their city and they’re willing to invest in it and to keep things moving forward,” she continues. “It’s just an exciting time to see a lot of things converging and to see the town just really taking off with an air of excitement – there’s an air of excitement and an energy when you walk on Front Street.”

Carol Jayroe, elected the first female mayor of the City of Georgetown as of January 1, 2022, sits at the helm. As a councilwoman for eight years prior to that, Jayroe is proud of her hometown (where she lives today), its leadership, and its residents.

“Georgetown is still small enough to be quaint and not too explosive,” says Jayroe. “Downtown is all family-owned businesses, restaurants or boutiques, not chains, and people like to support small businesses. We have a great Georgetown Business Association that does a great job. And with our waterfront location and history, what more could you want?

“People love the walkability and there are so many young families that are downtown now,” she adds. “You see strollers and little tricycles and everything now, so that’s great. I think we have three ice cream shops now, but they all stay busy!”

Welcome to The George

Due to open its doors in November or December 2023 (as of press time) and creating quite the positive buzz, The George will be a 56-room upscale boutique hotel at 615 Front Street, on the corner of Front and Queen streets.

It’s unprecedented for downtown Georgetown and joins the Indigo Road Hospitality Group’s family of boutique hotels and restaurants nationwide, including two in South Carolina: Town Hall, a Southern-inspired restaurant in downtown Florence, and The Spectator Hotel in Charleston.

“When we were asked by Christy Cooper Whitlock and her team to be a part of this project, we could not have been more excited,” says Larry Spelts, president, Lodging and Lifestyle Adventures at The Indigo Road Hospitality Group. “Especially post-pandemic, we have become more involved in emerging destinations. These secondary and tertiary markets are appealing, more now than ever, to live and visit, and we want to be a part of that shift. Georgetown is underserved from a lodging perspective, with limited hotels and bed & breakfasts, and we feel the town is an ideal retreat for travelers near and far. Providing an upscale, boutique hotel on the waterfront with a great food and beverage program feels like an exciting opportunity to take Georgetown to the next level – and we are excited to be a part of it!”

“I think what is exciting with the George Hotel is I went to Hotel Florence years ago, which is located in downtown Florence and it was in a desolate area and the whole neighborhood changed when that hotel opened,” says Jayroe, “so to have a developer come in and spend over $20 million in our city, it gives everybody a sense of, ‘I want to be there, too.’ If they can spend this much money and they feel good about our city, then, people think, ‘Doggone it, I’m going to do the same thing.’”

Mayor Jayroe, who had the opportunity to tour the property in the spring while under construction, says the property is stunning. In addition to the rooms and suites, The George will also feature a full-service restaurant and bar on the Front Street side and a waterfront event space, bar and activity lawn for lounging, games, and events on the Sampit River side. The hotel will also have direct marina access for boating traffic to dock and enjoy the amenities and guests to have access charter fishing boats and sailing excursions into the Winyah Bay.

“It’s really going to be spectacular,” says Jayroe. “It’s going to be new and upscale, but also a nod to our history. I think it fits beautifully into the landscape of Front Street.”

“There’s just a lot of activity going on along Front Street and there are so many unique culinary offerings that are very diverse, very different,” says Mark Stevens, Director of Tourism Development for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s really developing into quite a wonderful culinary scene there.

“I think you can see the success for historic Georgetown, and I think that’s something that we’re going to see more of,” Stevens continues. “We’ve had 10 years of increased tourism here. … During Covid, our numbers went up, not down. We’ve kept record-setting numbers and all of this ties together. … The opportunities that we have in Georgetown and Front Street is so unique and so special to people.”

“I think with any type of creative endeavor, it’s about creativity breeding creativity,” says Stedman, “so when you’re seeing these unique culinary experiences and you see a couple that are doing well, that just really encourages other people to join in.”

“I think we need to be very thoughtful with growth,” says Jayroe. “We are where you live, and Georgetown is where you live and work and you play here … But we’re trying to do what we’re doing purposely to meet the needs of future generations and we’re trying to be very careful about that.”

 (Left) SoCo; (Right) Between the Antlers.

Newer Restaurants in Downtown’s Food Scene

Take a bite out of these bars and restaurants that have recently opened in Georgetown

SoCo Wood-Fired Pizza, 107 Screven St.

Greg Metcalfe, owner of SoCo Grille around the corner on Front Street, which opened in 2020, just expanded his restaurant empire with SoCo Wood-Fired Pizza in May 2023. He also has plans to convert the building that once housed his SoCo Chophouse next door to the pizzeria at 109 Screven Street into a Texas-style barbecue, which the mayor says is on-hold for now. So-Co Wood-Fired Pizza is centered around its blue-tiled, wood-fired pizza oven that can completely cook a pizza in 90 seconds under heat using hickory and applewood. The new eatery also offers 16 craft beers on taps, flat screens, and indoor and outdoor seating. The menu features build-your-own pizzas and about a dozen specialty pizzas, such as the fig and pear pizza, barbecue chicken, wood-fired chicken, and the Godfather topped with meats and fresh ingredients.

Between the Antlers, 100 Wood Street

Tucked between Georgetown’s abandoned steel mill and Front Street on a bluff known as Vinegar Hill, Between the Antlers, owned by Tom Hall, has been serving locals since April 2022. Views of the Sampit River and Harborwalk Marina from the restaurant are award-winning. The open-air dining areas feature alfresco and indoor dining, with a menu filled with fun boat drink recipes, Southern staples with a twist, fresh seafood, like an array of grilled oysters, and Sunday brunch offerings, such as the Grit Bowl, the Creole Fried Chicken Biscuit, and the Grapefruit Brulee Fruit Plate.

Marker 42 Lowcountry Cantina, 929 Front Street

Open since Cinco de Mayo 2022, Marker 42’s fun ambiance along Front Street includes a buoy bell-shaped bar and festive seating areas. The cantina puts a Southern twist on Tex-Mex cuisine, such as the South of the Border Fried Green Tomatoes drizzled with agave syrup and cotija cheese, served with jalapeno and prickly pear jelly, the Cheerwine carnitas, a collection of taco combos in corn or flour tortillas (like pork belly burnt ends smothered in Lowcountry peach barbecue sauce), and Carnitas Mac’n Queso (queso is housemade), featuring a Cheerwine barbecue sauce and cotija cheese.

The HarborWalk in Georgetown offers scenic views of the Sampit River. 

Waterfront Property Development Potential 

What does the future hold for 40 acres of waterfront land across the water from Harborwalk and Liberty Steel?

In June 2023, Georgetown County purchased the port from the South Carolina Ports Authority, with 40 acres of waterfront property ready to develop. A provison in the most recent state budget set aside $3.3 million to dredge the harbor in exchange for the port.

With Georgetown City and County councils reporting that environmental cleanup on the property will take two to three years, development won’t happen anytime soon from the recent legislation, but the acquisition is still a huge opportunity.

“I think they identified $13.6 million in remediation that needs to take place on that property, so it’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s quite good to have 40 acres of waterfront property located in the heart of our downtown,” says Jayroe.

“I got to go out to the property on Monday and take a quick tour,” says Stedman. “Council is looking to get a lot of community input as they’re deciding how they will develop that property. There are a couple of industries there that are viable, that are still operating that have long-term leases, but those businesses will continue to operate. They will be cleaning up some of the other areas, and some of the other buildings need to be addressed. … It will be in phases, but a big part of it will be getting community input as to what they want to see happen with that property.”

The waterfront City of Georgetown has proven its potential growth now and in the years to come. 

More Growth To Come

  • Mayor Jayroe also reports a few other businesses coming to town, but no exact details or timelines were available, including:
  • Two Parker’s Kitchens - One is newly opened at 1347 N. Fraser St. and one is under construction on Highway 17 beside the Quality Inn hotel across from Taco Bell.
  • A new brewery/distillery is coming to Front Street as a mixed-use residential and commercial building overlooking the water and just recently went through an architectural review board process. 
  • A new restaurant is coming to the 900 block of Front Street – “It’s currently under construction and the owner is waiting for a restaurateur to run it and for its purpose,” says Jayroe. 
  • A new housing development is also in the works within the city limits that will be just south of Georgetown on South Fraser Street, featuring a couple hundred single-family homes that they are clearing the property for now.