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Greenville Mayor Talks Downtown Reinvention at Annual Meeting

​The City of Greenville has built a reputation for national accolades in recent memory. In its list of best places to live in the nation, U.S. News & World Report highlighted Greenville's downtown as well as its growth in manufacturing jobs, while the Condé Nast Traveler 2018 Readers' Choice Awards for the best cities in the nation described the city's farm-to-table restaurant scene as rivalling Asheville, N.C.

Greenville Mayor Knox White
Greenville Mayor Knox White. Photo: City of Greenville.

Despite this praise, Greenville is only a few decades removed from an era of disinvestment that emptied out its downtown. The story of its transformation from that time to now is one that Mayor Knox White will tell at the Municipal Association of SC Annual Meeting in Greenville, July 18 – 21. It's also one that he told at the joint meeting of the SC Community Development Association and Main Street South Carolina in Aiken and North Augusta in May.

White credited the first steps to the city leaders of the 1970s, who he said had the foresight to "bulldoze" the four-lane Main Street to open up space for the wide sidewalks and the large tree canopy the street now enjoys. From there, he said, the push could begin to create substantial activity on evenings and weekends with an intense focus on mixed-use development. Now, he said, the busiest time downtown is 3 p.m. on Sundays.

"No matter how you cut it, no matter how you slice it, to get vibrancy on the street, you've got to get residential. You've got to get people living in the downtown area," he said.

Efforts in the mid-1990s focused on creating residential space on second floors above storefronts. It continued through projects like Fluor Field in 2006, a development that included condos and is now surrounded by residential development.

City of Greenville trolley
Courtesy City of Greenville, SC

Mixed use, White concluded, is capable of having "a magical effect," adding that Greenville's leaders have been stunned by what it has accomplished. He encouraged his audience to push for it at any scale, even if they are pushing for just a single block.

"Whatever the scale, the rules are the same," he said.

Mayor White will speak during the opening general session of the Annual Meeting Friday, July 19 at 9 a.m. Downtown Greenville revitalization efforts will also be spotlighted in a preconference mobile workshop Thursday, July 18 at 8:30 a.m. Learn more about the agenda for the Annual Meeting and registration information.