The revitalization of downtown Greenville is an amazing success story by any standards. I have been lucky enough to call myself a native of Greenville and even luckier to have come of age as the town came alive. I have worked on Main Street with RealtyLink, LLC development since 1999 in three different office locations from the North Main area to Falls Park. So I have had a front-row seat watching this city awaken, stretch
and come alive.
My mother worked at the Greenville News when I was growing up so I was not unfamiliar with downtown, but the first time I experienced that buzz of urban growth was at the age of ten. It's strange how random events act as placeholders for childhood memories. I remember eating with my family in what was then a brand new Hyatt hotel. I remember wandering through the massive lobby and atrium and not
believing that such a thing could be built. I can pinpoint that moment in time as the moment Main Street Greenville became a place I wanted to go back to.
Over the next 10 years, I have very few memories of doing anything of consequence in downtown Greenville. Not that development in downtown Greenville was not moving forward, it was just nothing at the time that a teenager would be interested in.
I went to Clemson after high school and rarely came back to Greenville until the following summer of 1995. Some of my high school friends suggested going downtown to a new coffee shop called Coffee Underground and from that point forward there have
a few weeks in my life that have not been spent on
Main Street Greenville either working or playing.
Other people who lived, worked and played downtown from the early 1990s through the early 2000s might have different experiences, but the only part of downtown that I frequented regularly was the area of Main Street between Beattie Place and Washington Street. Of course, other things were happening on Main Street during that time. The Peace Center opened in 1990. Soby's restaurant opened in 1997 and was a real pioneer located that far south on Main Street at the time. Several other businesses and restaurants opened south of Main and Washington Street, but anything south of that block still felt unstable, as if it could revert to empty storefronts at the drop of a hat.
Everyone I knew spent all of their time downtown in that three-block stretch of street. Granted I was in my early twenties, and that's where all the bars and restaurants were, but it was a pretty extensive list....Henny's, The Gargoyle Club, Blue Ridge Brewery, Tassy's Tavern, The Corner Pocket, Betty Pearls Bourbon Street, Wild Wings, Barley's Tap Room and several other places that opened and closed during that time frame. There were also lots of great restaurants shoved into that three-block area as well. Wild Wings did massive
numbers and was the usually the first or second highest-grossing store in the chain doing between $4 and $5 million years in sales.
This is all my personal experience of coming of age in downtown Greenville, but let's put that into perspective growth-wise. The Greenville Hyatt opened in 1982. So if we look at growth in downtown Greenville from 1982 to 2002, the majority of that business and retail growth is happening in a three-block area.
Seeing this growth on map helps to understand how small an area I am actually talking about. The red box indicates the intersection of Main Street and Beattie Place to the intersection of Main Street and Washington Street. It took 20 years to create 1,234 feet (no I did not make that number up) of solid office, hotel, restaurants, bars, and multifamily. That is how difficult and slow-moving downtown redevelopment can be even under ideal circumstances.
Sure there were a lot of other things happening in downtown south of this area, but those three blocks were the established secure heart of downtown Greenville for those 20 years. Because there was a well-rooted heart of development, it allowed the other things happening further south on Main Street to take place.
The Peace Center, which was built in 1990, was a huge win for the city and it anchored a very important Main Street intersection for almost 15 years, giving the city time to expand and grow up around this cultural hub. If not for the Peace Center, Greenville's growth would have been severely stunted and certainly would not have been as pretty as it has become. If that three-block section of North Main was the first leg of a marathon race, city leaders were smart enough to plant the Peace Center exactly three more blocks further down Main Street.
1990 to 2001 was the highest level of economic growth in the history of America and Greenville, and the upstate had been experiencing steady growth overall through that period of time, but it still was relatively slow compared to some other sections of the country. That particular economic downturn known as the dot com bubble only lasted less than a year, but I do remember several projects either being put on hold or canceled all together during that time. The city overall kept slowly moving progress southward down Main Street. Stores would open, some would close but something would eventually take its place and manage to stick.
Between 1998 and 2005 some really big things began happening from the Washington Street intersection to the Broad Street intersection. In 1998, local developer Bob Hughes, who has played a major role in the development of downtown Greenville, added 10 stories to the Poinsett building as well as adding space for what would be Restaurant O and Two Chefs. The Wells Fargo Center which takes up one entire block underwent several expansions and renovations adding retail restaurants and a multifamily component
in both 1998 and 2004. These two mid-rise office towers with multifamily and restaurant components made it possible to bring back a historical landmark in downtown Greenville that went from being a daily reminder of Greenville's not too distant economic devastation to a showpiece for the city.
The Poinsett Hotel which sat as a vacant and dilapidated eyesore in the heart of downtown for decades was finally revitalized and brought back to its former beauty in 2000. This was a major hurdle for Greenville to overcome. That big vacant brick tower sat like a psychological roadblock for anyone walking the streets of
Greenville. When it was finally reopened it was like it was okay to believe that something special could happen not just for North Main Street but for Greenville as a whole.
The next move was the one that began making people from outside of Greenville start taking notice of what was going on. The Riverplace development is probably one of the best public/private development projects I have ever seen pulled off. It was announced in 2003, but I think it was in the works long before that and was completed in 2008. A massive effort of development, planning, roadwork, and beautification created something very special along the banks of the Reedy River. It was not without complications and delays, and anyone looking at a public/private development should examine this project closely. The details are probably worth several in-depth articles all by itself. The result was a legacy project for the city that was the perfect compliment to Falls
Park which opened in 2004.
The next anchor was planted even deeper into uncharted development territory when Flour Field was built in 2006. There have been a lot of other major developments in Greenville since that time but that brings us up to a time most of us would consider being the modern present. The city of Greenville has a fantastic page dedicated to telling this story which can be found here: https://gis.greenvillesc.gov/downtownreborn/index.html.
The reason for this personal trip down Main Street is to set the stage for the next article which will look at the growth in Greenville from 2007 through 2018, and examine how the great recession affected Greenville and what steps the city took to make sure all that had been gained was not lost.