Master plan to address Cleveland Park’s challenges and future

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Photo by Jack Robert Photography

Like Greenville, Cleveland Park has evolved.

The park, which got started when William Choice Cleveland donated a crescent-shaped 110 acres to the city in 1924, originally had a Girl Scout meeting place and a nine-hole golf course. The park, much of it along the Reedy River, at one time had a swimming pool and a skating rink.

Since 1960, Cleveland Park has been home to the Greenville Zoo. Now, the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail is a major drawing card.

“Cleveland Park is a very different park and place, with different demands than 10, 20 years ago, or even five years ago,” said Jay Anthony, president of the Cleveland Forest Neighborhood Association.

And many believe the park will continue to see increasing numbers of people despite the city’s plan to build City Park, the name by which Greenville’s newest signature park planned for downtown’s western flank is now known.

Despite Cleveland Park’s longevity, the city has never had a master plan for what is Greenville’s largest public green space. That will soon change.

Eight consulting firms — some local, some regional — have submitted proposals for a Cleveland Park master plan. It will look at how individual spaces in the park perform and whether any changes need to be made to meet the recreation needs of a new generation. The city wants to have the consultant selected by the end of February. Work on the plan, which includes multiple chances for public input, would start in the spring. It would take four to six months to complete.

Perhaps the biggest issue the plan will have to address is parking and traffic.

“Traffic flow and a parking plan will be a key component of the master plan,” said City Councilman Wil Brasington. “It has to be.”

On nice weekend days — even those without a special event — finding a parking spot in one of Cleveland Park’s parking lots can feel akin to winning the lottery. When the parking lots are full, park visitors try to find a space anywhere they can, lining the streets that wind through and around the park and turning one of the park’s meadows into a temporary parking lot.

Some city officials have talked about pushing parking to the outer edges of the park and closing the roads that traverse its interior, even if just on the weekends, like Central Park in New York. Jay Anthony, president of the Cleveland Forest Neighborhood Association, said some nearby residents support that approach, but it’s a sticking point with others.

“We just want our neighborhood to be heard,” he said.

City officials have said providing parking relief is one reason they’ve pushed for expansion of the city’s trolley system to Cleveland Park and the Greenville Zoo. But not all are convinced it will have as much impact as the city hopes, especially among parents with small children who want to be close to their vehicle.

“There’s a creative solution out there,” Anthony said. One idea floated by some neighborhood residents is using a railroad bed between Springfield Baptist Church and the back of the zoo as a “train” route to shuttle people on weekdays and Saturdays.

But there are other issues, too.

Areas of the park are prone to flooding. The latest instance was Sunday, Feb. 4, when heavy rain forced the closure of Cleveland Park and parts of the Swamp Rabbit Trail for several hours. The master plan will look at the effects of the water of the Reedy River on the park and the park’s effects on the water, he said.

Jimmy Thompson, who doesn’t live in the city but uses Cleveland Park several days a week, said some parts of the park seem underutilized and could perhaps be used to relieve some of the parking problem or used for something else that would alleviate the congestion around the zoo and playground.

Brasington, who said the area of the park near the Julie Valentine sculpture seems underused, said that should be considered. “I’m not saying the highest and best use is parking, but the highest and best use is not nothing at all,” he said.

Anthony said the old dog park is now “an awkward green space” that is not integrated into the rest of the park. He said he hopes the master plan will find a way to integrate it into the Cleveland Stables property. The stables property was bought by Jill Cox, the widow of former Daniel Construction President Charles Cox, and donated to the city in 2012.

The city has earmarked $500,000 to develop the property. A plan approved in 2013 calls for a covered formal entryway into the property, a 13-space semicircular parking lot, an open lawn, a river overlook with education panels, fencing, wildflowers, and azaleas. Waters said when construction is finished by summer it will add another 5 acres of green space to Cleveland Park.

Waters said the master plan would take a look at what works in the park and what doesn’t.

“Different user groups will identify different problems,” he said.

Anthony said neighborhood residents don’t want Cleveland Park to change too dramatically. “But we don’t want it to be left behind, either,” he said.

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