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Columbia Business Monthly

Historic Textile District

By L.C. Leach III

In May 2019, when Upstate entrepreneur Cliff Carden was preparing to open a new restaurant, he reflected on his choice to locate it in the historic Textile Crescent District in City View on the west side of Greenville. 

Carden knew the district's history of being working class, its slide into decay and blight, and its silent economic decline since the nearby Woodside Mill had stopped textile production in 1984. 

But Carden also knew that a small group of people who called themselves the Greenville Revitalization Corporation were at work to restore the district-to transform it back into a lively hub of neighborhoods and businesses. 

And by the end of 2020, GRC expects the district to not only be at the edge of a rebirth with more people like Carden, but to be recognized as a new focal point of Upstate growth in Greenville. 

"We were committed to bringing the restaurant into the old textile community," said Carden, who renovated a building on Woodside Avenue and turned it into Woodside Bistro. "While the initial thought was to use the space as a kitchen for catering, we quickly decided that we wanted to be part of bringing back this once vibrant corridor."

The roots of that vibrancy began in 1902, with the opening of the new Woodside Mill. For more than 80 years, it was an economic engine for the entire Upstate, employing at its peak 100,000 workers in the largest cotton mill in the U.S. under one roof, and sporting a village of more than 350 mill houses, two churches, a baseball park, stores, and medical services. 

By 2010, many of the village homes and buildings had survived but the prosperity had not. 

"When the mills and jobs left, so did the services," said Doug Dent, CEO for GRC. "To date they have not returned - and prior to the coronavirus shutdown, the district contained unemployment two to three times that of Greenville County as a whole - making it a desert for food, medical, recreation and other services."

So at a board retreat in 2011, the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority (GCRA) decided to form GRC as a separate, non-profit tax-exempt agency to create economic opportunity and advance community services in the Textile Crescent and other underserved communities in Greenville County. 

This area comprises the county's western side - from Slater-Marietta and Travelers Rest along the Saluda River down to Piedmont - and is bounded on the east by Poinsett Highway and Augusta Road. 

The new agency would have the flexibility to partner with other nonprofits, for-profit organizations, small businesses, industry and individuals to bring jobs and new commercial or industrial projects to the Crescent. 

But setting up the new agency to undertake this effort took time - as tax-exempt status was not obtained until 2013, and the group's first project did not begin until 2015. 

By that time, Dent had retired from his law practice to become the group's CEO. 

He already knew that the Textile Crescent was "the most depressed area of the county"- but now he saw that support for its renovation would come slow. 

"What I discovered was that bankers, Realtors, private developers, and business, educational and government leaders all wanted the area cleaned up," Dent remembered. "But not one was interested in redeveloping it except the County of Greenville."

Along with GCRA and county officials, GCR had its first success in 2015 - acquiring the vacant Woodside Mill office building, built in 1924. Though it was structurally sound, water and age had damaged much of the interior's 8,500 square feet. 

"But after inspection, it became evident to us that the building was worth far more than its sale price," Dent said. "So we bought it with a $50,000 loan from GCRA, then borrowed $225,000 from the bank to repay GCRA and do the needed renovations."

Once renovations were completed, Goodwill Industries agreed to rent the building for three years for its YouthBuild Job Training program, then chose to purchase the building from GRC for its Family Services Center. 

"And even though it was only one project, Woodside was the first sign that the Textile Crescent was coming back," Dent said. 

Since then, GRC has engaged a number of other renovation projects, which so far include: 

  • Piedmont Shirt Factory. Dormant since 1988, the factory was a serious blight to the Poinsett Highway corridor. Using its own accumulated funds, GCRA purchased the property in 2013, demolished the factory structures, obtained DHEC clearance, asked GRC to help market the property, and has now made the site ‘shovel ready,' Dent said, for economic development. 
  • Taylors Window Plant. With assistance from GRC, GCRA converted the former site on Shaw Street to a mixed-use facility. "We have been helping them market the property for a development that will impact the revitalization of the Poinsett Highway corridor," Dent said. 
  • Monaghan Mill. In 2006, plans were successfully completed by Monaghan Mills LLC to convert the old mill property along Smythe Street into new apartments called The Lofts of Greenville. In 2015, the property owners donated the 6-acre mill parking lot on the other side of Smythe Street to GRC to build a textile heritage park and museum. 

Partnering with the Greenville Textile Heritage Society, GRC developed a site plan for the area and began construction of the park. So far, a mill walk trail and children's playground have been completed with discretionary funds from three Greenville County Council members, donations of $500,000 from local foundations and private individuals, and a grant from the S.C. Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism. 

Helping make the district home to the Greenville Triumph, a professional soccer team that began play in United Soccer League One in 2019. 

"We highly valued what was happening in the surrounding community, thanks to the vision and efforts of GRC and other key partners,"said team owner and longtime Greenville businessman Joe Erwin. "We are extraordinarily proud to call the Textile District our home and to help our fans rediscover it."

GRC chairman Steven Bryant added that the Textile Crescent will once again thrive only through public/private partnerships. 

Partnerships so far include Avison Young, a commercial real estate services firm in Greenville that has worked on the City View project; Urban Partners of Philadelphia, to provide a market study for Poinsett Highway; Wells Fargo, which provided GRC with several grants; Greenville Water and Renewable Water Resources, who each provided a grant for the park; Parker Sewer and the Greenville Soil and Water Conservation District, which donated signs; and the 104-year-old business Greenco Beverage Co., which built a new 120,000-square-foot distribution center in 2016 on Poinsett Highway in Greenville. 

"Greenco's investment in the Poinsett Corridor was a major game-changer for the Textile Crescent, and gave legitimacy to GRC's efforts," Bryant said. "The county has also invested money into the area, such as with the recently revamped streetscape along Poinsett, near Greenco."

Going forward, GRC is poised to enter its biggest year for revamping the textile district. Members are now raising funds to build the museum/event center for the new park. The new building will host community events and contain a comprehensive history of Greenville's textile industry and mill village life. 

"I think the entire effort is going to be a real asset for our community," said Greenville County Councilman Willis Meadows, who represents District 19. "It's good that we're able to keep the history alive and remind people of Greenville's roots."

And once coronavirus subsides, GRC intends to turn a 1-acre parcel at the corner of East Parker Avenue and Woodside Avenue in City View into a mixed-use building with commercial properties on the ground level and affordable housing on the second story. 

"After selling Goodwill Industries the Woodside Mill Office building in 2018, we used the net proceeds to set up a development fund with $50,000, which will be reinvested in the purchase of this property," Dent said. "If successful, the project will be the area's first new construction in 50 years - and along with the park, it will bring people, money, jobs, and interest back to the area."

It is a lot to look forward to, but in addition to making the Greenville community stronger, Dent said GRC's plans with the Poinsett Corridor, Monaghan Mill and the Woodside area promise to make the Textile Crescent a major player in the Upstate economy again - once it's fully back and running. 

"Private developers and our business community are beginning to realize that the Textile Crescent is the next area for potential development," Dent said. "The trick is to do it in such a way as to allow residents of the area to remain and take advantage of employment opportunities that will be created."