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Columbia Business Monthly

Downtown Success

By Cindy Landrum

Greer’s CenterG project transformed its auto-centric Trade Street into a pedestrian-centered downtown by removing curbs and gutters and replacing them with multicolored pavers that designate vehicle traffic and parking and pedestrian use areas. But when Trade Street is closed for an event, it all becomes one large pedestrian area.

By the time the city completed CenterG’s $10.5 million first phase, the city’s return on investment had surpassed $100 million, including a hotel, an upscale apartment development, renovation of downtown buildings and several new businesses. CenterG’s second phase, which focuses on Cannon Street to expand downtown’s footprint, is already paying off with the announcement that Pure Wellness Spa will open this month.

Moncks Corner doesn’t have what Polin calls the “traditional cool South Carolina downtown architecture.” 

“We have no second-story residential, and we have no capability for it,” he said. “We don’t have the buildings that look like downtown.”

What it has that many downtowns don’t is green space, including a 52-acre municipal recreation complex built on a former lumber yard on East Main Street that opened in 2014.

Several restaurants and businesses have moved to Main Street since the complex opened, and more are on the way, he said.

“We’re stronger business-wise today than we were five years ago when I started,” Polin said. “We have a good mix of businesses and very few vacancies.”

Moncks Corner’s full-time Main Street program director starts work this month, the first time the town has had an employee whose full-time focus is downtown revitalization, Polin said.

“The challenge is to keep the momentum up, but not to become overrun and generic and boring. That’s the situation we’re in,” he said. “Growing is easy when people want to move to town. The challenge is maintaining the environment that made people want to live there in the first place. We don’t want just to be a bedroom community. We want people to say, ‘I need to move to Charleston, but I want to live in Moncks Corner.”

More important than ever

Boulware said progress is being made in Main Street South Carolina cities even during the pandemic.

Camden became the state’s ninth South Carolina Cultural District in October. Cultural districts are walkable geographic areas with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets. They frequently have galleries and artist studios, theaters and other live-performance venues, public art, museums, and arts centers along with non-cultural attractions such as parks, restaurants and bars and other commercial activities.

In Laurens, a series of building restorations have taken place in the last six months.

“While the pandemic has obviously affected businesses, it has also sparked ingenuity and creativity in downtowns,” Boulware said.

Boulware said downtown revitalization begins with actionable tasks, even if they are super small.

“Every small action begins to unfold into something larger. Everyone has a stake in downtown. A strong historic core is essential. It equates to a strong economy,” she said.

Because downtowns and communities undergo constant change, downtown revitalization is a forever activity, Boulware said.

“It’s not a one-and-done kind of thing,” she said.

Downtown Greenville conference center more important than ever, developer says

Developer Bo Aughtry said the coronavirus pandemic has driven home how crucial a conference center is to downtown Greenville’s continued success.

Even before Covid fears prompted businesses to curtail travel and kept leisure travelers home, Aughtry feared downtown Greenville had a math problem – too many hotel rooms and not enough people to fill them.

Once the AC Hotel Greenville and the Grand Bohemian open, the number of downtown hotel rooms will have nearly tripled from 2015. The increased supply coupled with no new major demand generator had Aughtry and others concerned even before Covid.

“You don’t have to go very far in Econ 101 to know that’s not a healthy environment,” he said.

That’s why Aughtry and Phil Hughes, another prominent Greenville developer, are renewing their efforts to get state support for a downtown conference center.

The developers pledged nearly seven acres of land they own on the banks of the Reedy River for the South Carolina Art and Cultural Center – a $100 million project that would include 65,000 square feet of conference space and house art collections from the Greenville County Museum of Art and the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery. They say the center could spur more than $300 million in private investment, including residential, office and retail.

“It’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Greenville,” Aughtry said. “It will not only boost us up out of Covid, but it would be a giant step for downtown, much like the Hyatt, the Peace Center and ball field (Fluor Field in the West End) have been.”

The project would require a mix of private investment and $26 million each from city, county and state funding. Both the city and county approved through resolutions funding their shares of the project.

The state had earmarked $7 million last year. Aughtry said he and Hughes are renewing their efforts to secure an additional $19 million in state funding.

In the meantime, the city expects to select a firm to develop a master plan for the downtown conference center and adjoining mixed-use development by the end of November. It will include feasibility studies, site planning and design.