How A Park Helped One Town Weather The Recession

Posted by Spalding Hurst

July 29, 2011

Mayor Knox White has led Greenville, S.C., for 15 years, and is running unopposed for another term. Here, he stands near a natural waterfall that’s in the middle of the city’s downtown, in a park that cost $13 million. “Within two years,” he says, “over $100 million in private investment was created around the park.”

Published: July 29, 2011
by Julie Rose

During the worst of the recession, new development ground to a halt and small businesses closed their doors on many Main Streets throughout the country.

That wasn’t the case in Greenville, S.C. And while it seems improbable that a city would thrive during the recession, Greenville’s mayor credits a mix of good luck and good fundamentals.

‘Our Own Little Rockefeller Center’

The “nickel tour” of Greenville, population 58,000, starts at a window on the 10th floor of City Hall.

“Our perfectly gorgeous city is very visible from over here,” says Mayor Knox White who, with a can of Starbucks espresso in one hand, uses his neon green BlackBerry to point out a half-dozen construction projects under way downtown.

The most recent is a park. “[It’s got] green space in the middle, which is an ice skating rink in the winter … kind of like our own little Rockefeller Center.”

White has been the city’s Republican mayor for 15 years and is running unopposed for another term. He’s slim, middle-aged, a bit frenetic, and eager to show off the project that helped Greenville weather the recession.

The city has a beautiful, natural waterfall smack in the middle of its downtown that was hidden for decades by a concrete overpass, warehouses and boarded-up buildings. White took some political heat, but convinced the city to fund a 20-acre public garden around the waterfall and a suspension foot bridge above.

“The park cost $13 million,” White says. “Within two years, over $100 million in private investment was created around the park — hotels, restaurants, condominiums, apartments. The entire, what we call the West End of our downtown, just blossomed.”

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