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Adding Value and Interactivity to Downtown Experiences

Resident and visitor engagement with downtown districts is on the rise in South Carolina cities and towns — taking such forms as splash pads to cool off in the summer heat, free mini golf, or scavenger hunts for bronze mice and Boykin Spaniel puppies. With a combination of whimsy and history, these installations help draw people to the centers of town.

City of Camden Boykin Spaniel Invasion
The Boykin Spaniel Invasion is one of the newest downtown scavenger hunts in the state.
Photo: City of Camden.

Consider Camden — where the South Carolina state dog was first bred just a few miles away in the community of Boykin. The idea for capitalizing on this began when the Boykin Spaniel Society staged a gathering in Camden, and the city wanted to give visitors more reason to explore the downtown, said Rickie Good, curator of collections at the Camden Archives and Museum.

"The Boykin Spaniel Society was begun in Camden to protect the health and integrity of the breed," Good said. "It seemed fitting that South Carolina's state dog, with so many connections to our area, take visitors on a tour of our city."

During the first year, the city staged a scavenger hunt with businesses displaying images of Boykins in their shops. The hunt was so successful the city decided to make it part of the permanent tours of Camden, and, after two years of looking, found a small statue of a Boykin puppy that would make the perfect tour marker. The Boykin Spaniel Invasion had begun.

The statues were created by Mary Deas Boykin Wortley, the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Boykin Spaniel breed, who modeled them after one of her own Boykins. Now, bronze puppies are located at 11 points of interest around town, with clues to find the pups posted online and in a brochure available at the Camden Archives and Museum.

Visitors can discover interesting places around Camden as they search for the pups, and then post photos of themselves on the Facebook page to receive a Certificate of Discovery. The Camden Archives and Museum staff prints the brochures and maintains the Facebook page and website — www.boykinspanielinvasion.com.

Downtown scavenger hunts have found success around the state for years now. While Camden's hunt is relatively new, Greenville's Mice on Main project began in 1999 – 2000, when James Ryan, then a high school student, devised a senior project that would draw people to downtown involving nine bronze mice. It was inspired by his favorite childhood book, Goodnight Moon, which features a mouse hidden on pages throughout.

City of Greenville Mice on Main
Mice on Main has now been a downtown Greenville icon for about two decades. Photo: Linda Kelly.

The Greenville mice are tucked away on the city's bustling Main Street, and finding them is a favorite outing for children, families, couples and tourists.

Upkeep and maintenance falls to city workers and to three people who make up the partnership of Mice on Main – Ryan, sculptor Zan Wells, and Linda Kelly, who wrote the Mice on Main book.

"In addition, every business and all the city workers are on the side of Mice on Main," Kelly said. "They support us because the mice are important to Greenville's amazing success as a wonderful place to live and visit."

The Greenville project has grown from a scavenger hunt for tiny bronze mice into something of a cottage industry, with all of the proceeds going to charity.

"Greenvillians and visitors buy the [Mice on Main] books, the T-shirts, the hats, the mugs to remind them of the mouse hunt and of their time in Greenville. The Mice on Main book has been sent to people all over the world," Kelly said.

Down the road in Greenwood, the addition of the open-air Uptown Market was identified in the city's master plan as a way to use a key intersection for a farmers market and to draw people to the area.

Splas pad at Greenwood's Uptown Market
The 2019 splash pad season at Greenwood's Uptown Market runs from May 25 to September 2. 
Photo: City of Greenwood.

Before construction, Greenwood city staff and council members visited several other markets, including the farmers markets in Walterboro and in Winter Garden, Florida. It was the Florida trip that gave the city the inspiration for a splash pad, according to Stephanie Turner, manager of the Uptown Market.

Children are able to cool off as they run through the fountains, which use a state-of-the-art water recirculation and treatment system to minimize environmental impacts.

"The splash pad has been an absolute hit," Turner said. "We constantly get requests to run it longer hours and to extend our season. It gets use from locals and those out of town, and frequently a busload of children will arrive from a local camp or daycare."

This year, Greenwood budgeted money to install more shade and seating around the splash pad, she said. The fountains have been a strong addition to the Uptown Live Concert Series, where the adults can enjoy the music while the kids play in the water.

Spartanburg, meanwhile has found a new twist on an art installment to drive downtown traffic. A partnership between the city and a group of artists turned a long-time vacant lot into a free miniature golf course open to the public. The Sparkle City Mini Putt came about when Hub-Bub, an artist-in-residence program hosted by the Chapman Cultural Center, the city and an anonymous donor joined forces. The former artist-in-residence, Robin Schwartzman, designed the nine-hole miniature golf course, something she has done all over the country, said Christopher George, communications manager for the City of Spartanburg.

City of Spartanburg Sparkle City Mini Putt

City of Spartanburg Sparkle City Mini Putt
The free Sparkle City Mini Putt takes advantage of a previously empty lot on Spartanburg's Main Street. Photos: City of Spartanburg.

"She was available to do it, and they were looking for a use for that space. The city agreed to take over the upkeep of the space; that's our responsibility. We provided some funding, but it's largely privately funded," George said. "It started in 2015 and the reaction has been great. Downtown businesses and partners have the putters and balls available there. It's all free. You just show up and tell them you want a putter."

The course, centrally located between East Main and East Broad streets, features holes inspired by Spartanburg landmarks, such as the sign for the famous Beacon Drive-In, a mill village iron bridge and railroad crossings, along with a map outline of South Carolina.

The city's maintenance crew handles landscaping and cleaning up the trash. There's also some occasional touch-up painting needed, he said. Last year, a few local artists pitched in to do a little course refresher.

The combination of an artist and a private landowner went a long way toward making the project a reality, according to George.

The lot was between two buildings, in a somewhat difficult space to develop.

"If you have those, particularly in your downtown, it's good to think about these interactive spaces that are different from a typical park," George said. "We hear all the time about the need for family attractions. There are plenty of restaurants and bar life, but we're always on the lookout for more family-friendly things. That's an area where a local government can play a big role."

Cities with successful installations make a point to talk about the importance of getting residents to buy into the city's plans on the front end.

"Other towns should know that we at Mice on Main have worked hard to encourage all Greenvillians to take pride and a sense of ownership in the mice," Kelly said. "We have created the book, the game, the T-shirts, the hats and so on, to keep the mice on people's minds. We go to schools, business meetings and conventions to talk about the mice."

Or, as Good in Camden said: "Get community input before proceeding, find the perfect symbol and have fun."