By Reba Campbell, Depufy Executive Director, Municipal
Association of SC
Reprinted from the SC Chamber of Commerce's
November/December issue of "South Carolina Business"
Downtowns have long had a special place in American life as
hubs of business and residential living. However, when the pace of
commerce increased in the mid-1900s, many downtowns around Leadership and vision
the country, especially in South Carolina, were shuttered when the Greenville
growing interstate system circumvented city centers. At the same Greenville is one of the state's best known success stories for
time, residents were flocking to the suburbs and businesses were having a long-term vision for its downtown redevelopment.
moving to the bypass leaving many downtown centers struggling. In a decline typical of South Carolina cities in the late 1970s,
In the past 25 years, however, public and private sector leaders Greenville lost many downtown businesses to the suburban shop-
have led revitalization efforts in many South Carolina downtowns. ping centers. Business and city leaders recognized that something
Statewide, dozens of communities of all sizes have reinvented their needed to be done.
city centers to reflect todays demographic trends, mobile lifestyles The city's master plan from the 1980s focused on public
and shifts in traffic patterns back toward downtown living and private partnerships that would encourage retail, residential living,
working. No longer abandoned and neglected, South Carolina arts and culture. The vision of that master plan stated by 2000
downtowns are springing back to be population centers bustling "Greenville will have a thriving downtown, which is recognized
with commerce, and residents are returning to downtown living. nationally as an example of a 'state-of-the-art' community in
But do not confuse downtown development with just rehab- which to live, work and play, and which serves in itself as a
. bing facades, bricking sidewalks and burying power lines. While national attraction." Recent recognition by national publications
the secret formula for downtown revitalization will be different
for every community, three themes frequently occur when look-
ing at successful downtown development plans across the state.
Leadership and vision - Downtown revitalization does not
just happen. Public and private sector leadership and vision over
many years are keys to its success. Without that shared vision,
diverse funding sources and a strong do-able plan, the process can
easily get off track.
Landmarks - Many successful downtown projects are built
around a local landmark or grouping oflandmarks. Restored opera
houses and theaters, city halls, courthouses, textile mills and federal
buildings all serve as anchors for successful redevelopment efforts.
Leveraging natural assets -Water is a natural asset many cities
have used as a draw for downtown development efforts. South
Carolina's wealth of rivers and the commerce that has long been
associated with waterways gives many cities and towns a natural
starting place for downtown development planning.
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such as Southern Living and Regions Magazine reinforces this
vision has become a reality.
In the 1980s, the city jump-started the reinvention of
downtown with a comprehensive streetscaping project that made
Main Street easier to navigate and encouraged pedestrian traffic
with parks and open spaces. The city also encouraged private
investment with its commitment to the Hyatt hotel and confer-
ence center that has been an anchor for downtown development
in the past 25 years.
Taking full advantage of its most valuable hidden asset in the
late 1990s, Greenville leaders set out a vision to incorporate the
Reedy River as the centerpiece of the city's downtown rede-
velopment plans. Following a massive $70 million construction
project to expose the river as an anchor for downtown economic
growth, Falls Park and the Liberty Bridge that spans the river
have become the focal point for downtown as a destination for
visitors and residents alike. the Main Street corridor and USe. The goal is to position the
capital city's downtown as a hub for high-tech jobs in the knowl- I
Aiken edge economy. City leaders recognized the knowledge economy
Like Greenville.Aiken's downtown experienced a similar workers, entrepreneurs and investors would want pedestrian
decline by the 1980s. City leaders started a long-term master friendly streets and access to downtown living.
planning process in 1986 to bring back the character and person- According to Jim Gambrell, director of economic develop-
ality of its original bustling downtown. Key to this planning ment for the City of Columbia, "Planning has paid offbig time for
process was strong private sector leadership working closely with downtown Columbia."
city council to ensure the rebirth of downtown would take place Gambrell said it all started with the Congaree Vista Plan in the
in a deliberate, long-term manner led by a strong downtown 1980s and continued with the City Center Master Plan in 1999.
development organization. This plan called for the streetscape on Main Street and supported
By 1993, the city's master plan had developed into a long-range the idea that residential development was important to make
strategic vision that focused on four core areas - the Business City, downtown a 24-hour environment rather than just a place where
the Family City, the Green City and the Historic City.This led to a people would come to work then leave for their suburban homes.
private fundraising campaign,Aiken 20/20, that raised $3.5 million "This planning also encouraged us to think about a market
in five years to provide private dollars that supplemented the public niche, and we focused on USC as a partner in developing technol-
investment in downtown. ogy oriented companies," said Gambrell. With USCs focus on
A major challenge cities often face in redevelopment projects its research campus, Innovista, the city and university partnered
is disruption to the existing downtown businesses. A unique to create Columbia's Technology Plan and the USC Columbia
aspect of Aiken's redevelopment plans was a process the city Technology Incubator, which has graduated 21 new companies.
called "publicitization," says Roger LeDuc, Aiken's city manager.
Publicitization means the city served as the general contractor for Landmarks
much of the infrastructure work to better control the cost, pace Newberry
and timing of the work.
Newberry experienced the typical decline resulting from
LeDuc says publicitization allowed disruptive streetscaping the interstate system and the widening of other highways in the
work to be done a half-block at a time on one side of the street 1970s. Businesses left the center city to be closer to the interstate.
rather than tearing streets up all at once. This process minimized By the late 1980s, downtown was nearly a ghost town.
the impact on downtown businesses and saved the city almost 50
In 1992, a concerned group of residents convened to consider
percent. Additionally, no businesses closed during construction.
the idea of reinventing the old opera house into a centerpiece
Another goal of Aiken's downtown planning was to increase that would position downtown Newberry as a performing arts
housing density. Through an incentive program, building owners destination. A successful public-private collaboration raised $6
added upper floor housing above downtown shops. They also million to renovate the building and an adjacent city park and
began rehabilitating neglected buildings downtown and created fund a streetscaping project.
incentives for private investors to do the same.
The renovated Opera House opened in 1998 as the anchor
for the downtown re-development plan. With a unique nine-
Columbia month season, the Opera House schedule features diverse national
In Columbia, the University of South Carolina is playing a performers ranging from opera and chamber music to country
critical role in tying a long-range vision for the Vista area, the river, music and acrobats in an intimate 462-seat facility .
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in 2006. Since its opening, more than 65,000 people have come
through the Federal-style building tying directly to the increase of
retail and restaurant traffic downtown. The 300-seat Greenwood
Community Theater, built in 1934, is a city landmark with many of
its original architecture elements intact from its early days including
the lobby Boor and many of the seats.
Recently, the courtyard between these two anchor buildings
was renovated to accommodate more events and downtown
gatherings. The city received two grants to help with the work.
The Greenwood Museum, a former furniture store built
in 1940, underwent a $1 million restoration in 2008, the first
improvements since it opened in 1982.
In 2002, Hampton Inn opened next to the opera house. At
the time, it was the only Hampton Inn located in a downtown
outside of a major metropolitan area in the state. In 2007, the city
restored the fire station next to the Opera House into a full-service
conference center. The fire station further increases the value of the
Opera House by generating overnight stays and using local restau-
rants for on-site catering of receptions, meals and other events.
City leaders say this approach to make downtown Newberry
an arts destination is working. Seventy percent of the visitors to
the opera house are from outside of Newberry, creating a sizeable
customer base for downtown restaurants, hotels and retail outlets.
Since the beginning of the Opera House project, downtown
Newberry has seen 20 buildings renovated, 17 second Boor apart-
ments constructed and six restaurants added. Downtown merchants sing the praises of this investment. Local
The city's public investment of approximately $9 million over businessman and international photographer Jon Holloway bought
the life of the project resulted in more than $14 million in private a 1901 auto parts store covered in a 70s-era facade and renovated
sector investments in Newberry's downtown district and continues it into a hall for exhibits and exhibitions that compliment the city's
to produce ongoing investment. three historical anchor buildings. He notes the streetscaping project,
new lighting and underground wiring in the downtown area have
made a real difference.
"Anything we can do to make it an area that's more inviting
Downtown Greenwood had experienced minimal growth in
and welcoming - that's a win-win for the community and the city,"
the past 20 years when city leaders began a master planning process
in 2004 to spur economic development. Community leaders
focused on three key cultural landmarks within the downtown area
called the Emerald Triangle. They saw these landmarks as anchors Natural assets
for redevelopment that could encourage a return to a thriving Beaufort
downtown economy driven by retail, restaurants and the arts. In Beaufort, a recent renovation of Henry C. Chambers
The Greenwood Federal Building, the Greenwood Commu- Waterfront Park overlooking the Beaufort River has allowed every
nityTheatre and the Greenwood Museum - close to one another resident to have a little piece of waterfront property. It draws visi-
on Main Street - were primary players in the city's goal of encour- tors and residents to the downtown historic district for shopping,
aging cultural, retail and restaurant development. All three buildings dining, lodging and leisure.
have been renovated over the past several years thanks to a combi- The park was first built in the 1970s and experienced a great
nation of hospitality tax dollars, federal grants, the Emerald Triangle deal of wear and tear as a popular spot for residents and visitors. A
Capital Improvement Fund and the Self Family Foundation. In plan was first developed in 2000 to restore the park. Over the next
total, the community has invested close to $12 million in projects several years, work was done to repair structural problems, landscap-
located in the Emerald Triangle since 2005. ing and storm water and electrical systems.
The oldest of the three buildings, the former Federal building, Today, the park links residents, visitors and business owners in
was constructed in 1911 and became the Arts and Visitors Center the downtown area. The popular "In the Park" series brings music,
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lunchtime concerts and evening movies that add to the bustle Main Street South Carolina members benefit from a
of downtown activity generated by the waterfront park. LaNelle national model that incorporates a four-point approach to
Fabian, director of Main Street Beaufort says, "The park adds to the downtown redevelopment - organization, design, promotion
mixed-use element of the downtown district by attracting people and economic restructuring, according to Beppie LeGrand,
interested in living and working downtown." manager of South Carolina's Main Street program.
The organization committee provides structure to the
Conway revitalization effort. This committee establishes a board of
As a gateway to the beach, Conway was often overlooked as directors and the other standing committees and coordinates
a destination for tourists and was challenged by having no central volunteers. The promotion committee ensures the organization
gathering place for residents or tourists. In the 1980s, Conway and merchants are part of a comprehensive marketing plan using
planners focused on the abandoned Waccanlaw Riverfront with special events, retail advertising and marketing campaigns.
empty warehouses and an abandoned sawmill. They envisioned a A primary goal of the Main Street program is to improve
scenic hub that could provide outdoor space for a variety of activi- and maintain an attractive and enticing downtown commercial
ties and a connection to downtown businesses. district. A design committee, often in concert with a city's
In 1988, the city held a two-day charette coordinating three design review board, works to improve the physical appearance
groups of residents and business leaders to develop concepts for of the downtown. The committee addresses buildings, green
the riverfront redevelopment. By 1989, the Waccamaw Riverfront space, pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns. The economic
District Plan emerged, outlining a three-stage process. Phase one restructuring committee supports existing business and identi-
brought the Riverwalk, new sidewalks and streetlights to the fies new businesses to recruit to create a business mix that
district. During phase two, the city extended the Riverwalk and supports itself.
added a riverfront park with a stage area and marina store. The final The four points of the Main Street approach correspond
phase, completed in 2009, provided landscaping and additional with the four forces of real estate value - social, political, physi-
facilities. State grant and bonds helped pay for the project. cal and economic.
City officials brought local residents and business owners into Jonathan Irick, manager for Main Street Laurens, says, "One
the process during numerous public workshops and committee of the many values of the Main Street program is the association
meetings. During these meetings, consultants, planners, environ- with a national organization that allows us access to information
mentalists, architects and city staff discussed me project and asked and services that are not often found in small towns. The name
residents and business owners to share their concerns and opinions 'Main Street' has become associated with real preservation and
and serve on the steering committee appointed by city council. economic development for downtown Laurens."
"The Riverwalk is more than just a project," says Mayor Alys Main Street programs are funded locally with training and
Lawson. "It's been numerous years in the making as a multiyear, consultation supplied from state and national Main Street
multicouncil and multicommittee project for the city. It's a dream staff and experts. Typically cities receive technical assistance
we've finally realized." services; program assessments; training for staff, board and
committees; and design assistance as benefits of their Main
Main Street South Carolina helps down-
Cities apply to join the Main Street program through a
towns develop rolling application process. "We have found the application
A common theme among many of South Carolina's successful
process helps us identify communities with the capacity to
downtown redevelopment projects is a formal city-supported
support a Main Street program," LeGrand said. "By selecting
organization to lead the efforts. Eleven South Carolina cities do
strong communities with solid organizations we are able to give
this through their participation in Main Street South Carolina, a
each one more personalized and targeted attention with their
nationally recognized program that supports downtown revi-
training, planning and volunteer development." •
talization through the National Trust for Historic Preservation's
Main Street Center.
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