Trip to Greenville

To me, yesterday’s Action Greensboro sponsored trip to Greenville, SC felt like a baton was being subtlely passed.  For several years now, downtown’s rivitalization efforts have been spearheaded by the private sector – namely local foundations.  If Action Greensboro’s choice of where to send two busloads of people was meant to hold Greenville up for what they envision as the path for the continuation of plans at remaking our center city – the baton of leadership has to shift more to our local government and the taxpayers.  Even though such baton-passing was never overtly stated by anyone yesterday, the pass-off was evident.  And I think it is high time for that to happen. 


The mantra we heard over and over from governmental leaders in Greenville, SC was “public/private partnership”.  Through some very favorable S.C. statute provisions (namely the ability for municipalities to issue bonds without voter approval), hard-nosed city-wide “design standards”, and a forward thinking laser focused pro-active mayor and city council, Greenville has been able to leverage public lands and public money to create a very impressive, but somewhat sterile, downtown in partnership with some very creative developers.


Greenville is rightly proud of the latest addition to their public spaces.  By developing the beautiful and impressive Falls Park, they have created a point of pride that, according to city leaders, is helping drive their economic development efforts.   Liberty Bridge spans The Reedy River providing a wonderful view of the only natural waterfall I have ever seen in any city’s downtown.  All along the river that used to be dumping ground for their once-thriving-but-now-gone textile industry, several mult-million dollar mixed-use developments are springing up and getting sold out as quickly as they are planned.   


I had to wonder – where is Greensboro’s river?… what is Greensboro’s “waterfall”?  And a more basic question:  Can Greensboro duplicate Greenville’s success at turning their downtown into such a Shangri-La that, according to their dynamic Mayor, has become the finest business recruitment tool any city could ever possess?


In addition, when any city becomes as focused on re-inventing its center city as Greenville is, something has to give; something has to go wanting.  And even though we weren’t shown any of the soft-underbelly-negatives that Greenville’s efforts at revitalization have not yet addressed, all is not just as it seems in their almost-Disneyland approach to economic development.  Bills are coming due.


But still, Greensboro can learn alot from Greenville’s ‘can do’ attitude and I’m glad I went.


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Much more later – we didn’t get in until 11p, and I’ve got to get to work.

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