GREENVILLE, S.C. — Mayor Knox White points with pride to a new downtown Publix supermarket that opened about six months ago, a couple blocks off this city’s vibrant Main Street.
“That’s a reflection of the residential growth,” he said earlier this month.
Mr. White said downtown has more than 1,000 units of housing, much of it added in recent years. The city doesn’t even recruit downtown housing anymore, he said, but is focused on bringing more retail to its core — a big aim for Chattanooga, as well.
In fact, the central cities in Greenville and Chattanooga have a lot in common. Both have long, narrow downtowns, boast relatively new minor league baseball stadiums and have undergone startling renaissances via differing routes.
Now, each of the metro areas has attracted a German automobile assembly plant.
BMW’s arrival in the Greenville-Spartanburg area in 1992 helped reinforce the renewal of Greenville’s central city, the mayor said. He called Volkswagen, which is building a $1 billion plant in Chattanooga, “a gold-star company” like BMW.
Mr. White said the BMW plant and its economic ripples helped fuel a total restructuring of the Greenville area’s economy.
“That was the alpha and the omega,” he said.
Officials said about 70 restaurants line Greenville’s Main Street, which offers free parking. About 130 retail businesses are downtown, and a half dozen parking garages are within a block or two of Main, most of which offer free parking on weekends.
One of Greenville’s newest anchors is Reedy River Falls Historic Park, which borders a river about the size of Chickamauga Creek and sits on 26 acres in the center of downtown.
Not always thriving
Joyce Scott, an owner of clothing store Ballew & Scott on Main, said downtown wasn’t always a gathering point for the entire region.
When her store moved into the area in 1987, more storefronts were boarded-up storefronts than were open, she said.
“We chose to be downtown because we cater to the business customer,” Ms. Scott said.
Since the late ’80s, however, downtown has grown rapidly, she said.
“It’s a popular destination for the whole area,” Ms. Scott said.
Much of the revitalization began when city fathers narrowed Main from four to two lanes, put in wider sidewalks along with trees and added diagonal parking, Ms. Scott said.
DOWNTOWN GREENVILLE, S.C.
* Residential units: more than 1,200
* Restaurants: more than 70
* Office space: more than 3 million square feet
* Weekday population: 116,000
* Retail shops: more than 130
Source: Greenville, S.C.
Greenville’s downtown has a street-level European feel that its economic developers use to recruit new business to the city.
It hasn’t all been easy, she said. There were protests from existing businesses over the changes because of the narrower street, and eminent domain was used to take land for a hotel built along the river, Ms. Scott said.
Also, signs are posted near the long-neglected Reedy River warning people that swimming and wading are discouraged because of poor water quality.
In addition, at least two big, new projects in downtown Greenville, a hotel and a mixed-use development, have been delayed by the slowdown in the overall economy.
Reed Wafrock, who manages a Starbucks off Main, said what’s occurred downtown took a long-term vision, and he sees the impact of BMW and other foreign investmentin the area, including tiremaker Michelin.
“We see a very interesting international mix of customers,” he said.
Cindy Knight, a Greenville resident, said downtown has benefited from having a family atmosphere, such as the minor league baseball stadium at one end built by Chattanooga’s EMJ Corp.
“Families are drawn here,” she said.
Another resident, Patricia Burleson, said Greenville is seeing more tourists.
“It’s bringing more people from other parts of the country to check it out,” she said.
The BMW plant has a visitors center, and downtown Greenville is a regional drawing card.
Video: “A booming downtown”Take a tour of downtown Greenville, S.C., an area that’s been transformed since the construction of a BMW plant in the 1990s. Main Street is home to more than 90 restaurants and five hotels.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...