By Anna Kate Hipp , Stephanie Norris, Suzy Haynsworth and Lezlie Barker
The first place proud Greenvillians take our guests is to Falls Park for the spectacular view from our own internationally acclaimed Liberty Bridge. Looking at the rapids, the cascading waterfalls and the banks and boulders of the Reedy River, we share in the natural beauty and serenity of this urban oasis.
The chronology for the now 24-acre park surrounding the river had its beginnings in 1967 when the Carolina Foothills Garden Club, partnering with the Greenville Planning Commission and Furman University, deeded six acres to the City of Greenville for our now world-class Reedy River Historic Park.
In those 50 years, the river has been a focus and a passion of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club. As the community worked together to create and develop the park as we know it today, several notable accomplishments are significant: the park’s inclusion in the National Historic Registry, the demolition of the Camperdown Bridge freeing the falls, the generous support of the city and our community as plans for the river and the park were refined, the establishment of the Falls Park Endowment and the construction of the Liberty Bridge.
This journey has been deliberate and passionate. While the Carolina Foothills Garden Club was among the first to urge for the expansion, refinement and implementation of the park, the project has been an endeavor supported by all facets of Greenville. When we hear people say “our park,” it is a collective, all encompassing “our,” the positive result of a dedicated, environmentally sensitive, forward-looking citizenry.
The campaign slogan “Free the Falls” successfully grew community support for the removal of the original Camperdown Bridge. The bridge came down, the park was expanded and the Liberty Bridge was built. Now, imagine standing on the Liberty Bridge at sunset in the near future. The existing trees on the far bank of the river have disappeared, replaced by a four-story building with the afternoon sun reflecting off the exterior of its façade. Gone is the tranquility and cool serenity formally encompassing our widely admired “view from the bridge.”
This scenario is not idle speculation.
There is now a proposal before the city to construct an office building on this acreage, 55 East Camperdown Way, directly in the view line of those on the Liberty Bridge and looking up the river. While the developer has met “legal regulations” for construction under current code, the building will block the gateway arch underneath the historic Main Street Bridge and become the view from the Liberty Bridge.
The regulations and zoning laws of the city are outdated. When enacted, it was impossible to envision what Greenville would boldly and imaginatively become today.
We are for development. We applaud and are proud of our city’s remarkable growth and renewal that followed the removal of the old Camperdown Bridge that freed the falls. The development of Falls Park, its gardens and wide expansive lawns that we all enjoy today took years of careful work.
There are positive options for compromise.
One option would be to deed the small parcel of 55 East Camperdown Way property to the city or a nonprofit organization and put it into a perpetually safe designation. The property values would be a contribution resulting in a tax credit to the donor.
Secondly, the present owner could sell the parcel to an interested party with the agreement that it would become a safe buffer to the river and never be developed. The buyer would donate the property to the Falls Park Foundation and receive a tax credit.
Thirdly, the City could purchase the property, preserving and protecting the banks of the Reedy River in the park.
We’d also like you to remember these words from Mayor Knox White in the Oct. 5, 2014, issue of The Greenville News: “Our city is firmly established as a tourists’ destination for the first time. But the greatest legacy of Falls Park is the new pride we share in our city and the belated recognition that the Reedy River is indeed our greatest asset. Downtown Greenville’s future as a distinctive, vibrant and livable urban center will be shaped by what we do next along its path.”
We now find our greatest asset is at a tipping point. Which direction will we go? Let’s continue to be the city that hears the voices of all who share the vision that has made Greenville the wonderful place we all share and enjoy today. Let us join together and make a conscious effort to think outside of the box about how we can save this last tiny, but vital, piece of land that lies along the banks of the Reedy River and is the calming entrance and tranquil focal point to literally tens of thousands of people who stand on the Liberty Bridge each year, walk through our park and marvel at what our small town in South Carolina has accomplished because we work together and share our pride of place.
Please join us in our effort to “Rescue the Reedy” by writing city council members and attending city hall meetings and Design Review Board sessions. Visit the Rescue the Reedy Facebook page for more information, upcoming meetings and updates.
Anna Kate Hipp, Stephanie Norris, Suzy Haynsworth and Lezlie Barker are members of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club.