George Jebaily was seven years old when his family relocated from New York to Florence, South Carolina, in 1963. The community warmly embraced his family and Florence quickly became “home” for the Jebaily family. As adults, George and his brothers raised their own families in Florence. And when the vibrancy of Downtown Florence was noticeably fading, George decided to give back to the city he loves, so that it would shine again for future generations.
The enormous undertaking of redeveloping Downtown Florence, S.C., began in earnest in 1999 with the creation of the Visions 2010 Committee, a citizens’ committee which George chaired. Working with then Mayor Frank Willis, this grassroots outreach effort was organized to engage the community in a dialogue to create a conceptual plan for the redevelopment of Downtown Florence. The Visions 2010 Committee evolved into the Florence Downtown Development Corporation (FDDC), a non-profit organization which worked with consultants to create a detailed Master Plan. The mission of the FDDC was devoted to working with the City of Florence to oversee the implementation of the Master Plan and restore civic pride in Downtown Florence.
As a part of the 10-year redevelopment plan, George served as the first chairman of the FDDC from 2002-2008, and as the chairman of the Master Plan update committee in 2010. This revised Master Plan continues to provide the framework for moving forward the redevelopment of Downtown Florence. Now, more than 15 years later from when he first began, George is a newly elected member of the Florence City Council and remains committed to the purpose and cause of developing and supporting the town in which he grew up.
“At a time when many others were ‘naysayers’ about the ability for Downtown Florence to have a revival, my brother George was convinced that Downtown Florence would be restored and renewed to make our community a place of pride for a whole new generation,” said Ron Jebaily, who nominated George for the 2014 American Association for Justice Trial Lawyers Care Award. “That dream keeps driving him forward.”
In the fall of 2008, during his last year as Chairman of the FDDC, George recognized the need for increased enthusiasm and support for the redevelopment effort. He believed in the power of the arts to bring people together, enlisting the commitment of two key community artists and activists to create an all-volunteer art gallery space downtown.
The Art Trail Gallery officially opened its doors on December 9, 2008, to a reception of more than 700 community members, many of whom were non-believers in the redevelopment effort prior to the gallery experience. Since then, thousands of visitors have poured through the doors of the Art Trail Gallery, and have viewed the work of more than 600 artists. The gallery has been a major catalyst of economic renewal and has provided momentum for the redevelopment effort.
Additionally, George served as the chairman of the South Carolina Pecan Festival from its creation in 2004 to the present.The street festival is held each year on the first Saturday in November and has grown to cover 11 linear blocks in Downtown Florence.
Jebaily Law Firm annually provides a sponsorship of the festival, with firm attorneys and staff regularly participating. Festival-goers enjoy free, live concerts on eight stages, plus there are “Run Like A Nut” & “Bike Like A Nut” events, a free Kids Fun Zone, a talent show, pecan cook-off, corn-hole tournament, and more than 250 arts & craft and food vendors. The festival routinely has more than 50,000 attendees, and is a driving force in the renaissance taking place in the heart of the community.
It’s easy to see how the name George Jebaily has become synonymous with Downtown Florence. His leadership and commitment to the rebuilding process set the stage for bringing together key players to form public-private partnerships that have engaged the greater community in the redevelopment process.Today, Downtown Florence is seeing a major transformation with a new Florence County Library, new Florence Little Theater, new FMU Performing Arts Center, new Florence County Museum, and a host of small businesses who have embraced the vision and have chosen to make an investment in Downtown Florence. Most importantly, there is a now a new belief that Downtown Florence has a vibrancy and attraction which will engage both present and future generations.
For George, there is no greater thank you than seeing the smiles on the faces of so many members of the community as the redevelopment of Downtown Florence continues to build year after year.