Looking back, there’s no denying it — Falls Park saved the West End.
Within two years of Falls Park opening, $150 million in private investment was made in the West End and, just like that, an area that had seen just a fraction of the activity of upper Main Street began to come alive.
“We had tried many strategies to redevelop the West End that didn’t work well,” said Mayor Knox White. “Falls Park definitely tipped off the redevelopment of the West End.”
The new City Park could have a similar but slightly different affect on two neighborhoods on its border — Southernside and West Greenville.
“It won’t be Falls Park, we understand that, but it’s just as important,” said Ervin McGee, who lives less than two blocks from the park site. “Literally, there are no negatives as it is right now. It will activate space that’s not being used.”
He added, “A city can’t have non-usable space like that.”
Robert Benedict, director of Clemson University’s master of real estate development program and a member of Greenville’s Design Review Board, said while there are differences between the two park projects, he expects the west side park to have as much of if not greater impact than Falls Park.
For one, Falls Park was surrounded by commercial and mixed-use properties instead of residential, like the proposed City Park. As a result, the transformation will be different.
“It will have a greater impact on neighborhoods that haven’t had the benefit of having a lot of amenities,” Benedict said. “Unlike in the West End, the city controls the residual property and has a unique opportunity to set the tone for affordable housing and local uses, and to enable the area to have special character.”
Numerous studies have shown the benefits — both economic and in livability — of parks.
“Measuring the Economic Value of a City Park System,” a study by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, identified seven ways in which cities derive economic benefits from parks. Parks attract non-resident visitors who put new dollars into local economies. Proximity to parks enhances the value of residential properties and produces increased tax revenues. Open space reduces stormwater management costs and lowers the cost of drinking water 10-fold by protecting underground water sources, while trees and shrubs reduce air pollution costs.
A CEOs for Cities study found that the walkability of a city — parks are one measure of that — increases home values. Of the 15 cities studied, 13 of them saw a significant increase in value of homes in walkable neighborhoods, ranging from $4,000 to $30,000 per house. The closer to the park, the bigger the bump.
“We’ve got a great walkable community, but we’re a little short on park space,” Benedict said. “This park would certainly be an important boost to the quality of life here and would transform space that is underutilized and, in some respects, an eyesore.”
Mary Duckett, a long-time Southernside resident, said the park has the capability of turning the Southernside neighborhood around.
“It will transform the area. Southernside will be a viable and safe neighborhood like it was when I was coming up as a child,” said Duckett, who is president of Southernside in Action, the neighborhood association that has been working to beautify the area for years. “One thing I’ve learned is when a blighted area is cleaned up, people have pride. It will be something beautiful for our neighborhood.”
Duckett said it was important that neighborhood residents have input into the project. One absolute was that Mayberry Park remain, she said. The plans right now call for putting names of streets in west Greenville on the outfield fence, a walkway and large letters spelling out Mayberry Park to pay homage to its history.
“There’s a lot of history there. It was the only park we had,” Duckett said. “Some of us in the neighborhood refuse to let the identity of the neighborhood die. Even before the millennial urbanites, that’s what I call them, became interested in the area, we still wanted a healthy, safe place to raise our children and call home.”
Duckett said the Mayberry Street area has always been blighted and the new park brings her pride. Its construction will be the culmination of years of work to improve the area, she said.
White said the city has treated the area where the park will be as a “throw-away zone.” It once was the site of a woman’s stockade and has been the home of the city’s public works department since the 1960s.
“This is an area, quite frankly, along the river that has been abused and neglected and it’s contributed to the decline of the neighborhood,” White said. “It has certainly been noted by the neighborhood. Residents there have been aware of it for generations about how the city has treated the area as a dumping ground.”