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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.”