The final Downtown Master Plan for the city of Greenville by Urban Design Associates was presented to the public May 29 at a packed-house meeting held at the Chamber of Commerce.
The final version, which focuses on five particular areas of recommended improvement, will circulate through City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Design Review Board this summer, said Mary Douglas Hirsch, real estate development manager with the city.
The five areas identified as key to the city’s growth are the mobility network (trail system and connectivity), Unity Park area and the West End, Buncombe corridor, East Downtown, and Augusta Street and South Downtown.
In 2018, the city of Greenville hired UDA, an international urban design and architecture firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to develop a strategic master plan for downtown.
The last master plan was completed in 2008, and the city has changed enough in the last decade to make a new plan a priority, Hirsch said.
“The overarching purpose of this plan is to recognize that the downtown footprint is much bigger, and we are dealing with growth on so many levels,” said Mayor Knox White. “So it’s more important than ever to have a ‘people-focused’ downtown – walkable and a human scale on the street level, even as we grow. That also means more emphasis on trees and water – the essential elements of our city. These things keep us uniquely Greenville.”
Previous master plans, beginning with the first in 1907, led to the construction of Cleveland Park, mixed-use and residential components downtown, and the reclaiming of the Reedy River, White said.
View the entire 112-page presentation here.
The objectives of the plan were to attract and retain businesses, residents, and visitors while ensuring the uniqueness and authenticity of downtown; position downtown for the attraction and retention of a workforce for the new economy; and continue the right blend of development and redevelopment.
“One of the things that we did here was to look at where growth was happening,” said Rob Robinson, UDA principal who presented the final plan. “And we identified very specific areas to take a kind of deep dive in, rather than trying to paint the whole city with one brush.”
One area of specific interest for city officials that the plan highlights is the cultural corridor along Buncombe Street.
“We want a better pedestrian connection between Main Street and Heritage Green,” White said. “They really went for that in a bold way.”
The planning process took several months and the project team worked with a variety of downtown stakeholders, including property owners, residents, businesses, developers, philanthropies, and elected officials, many of whom were present at the meeting, to develop a unified vision and comprehensive implementation strategy.
In addition to Urban Design Associates, the project team also included Hawkins Partners (landscape architecture/public space design), HR&A Advisors (market analysis), Thomas & Hutton (civil engineering), and Walker Parking (parking strategy).
Now that the plan has been released, there’s a lot more work ahead. After going through the DRB, the Planning Commission, and two readings with City Council, adjustments will be made based on feedback from those meetings.
A main focus will be determining what the character of each area should be now that we have this road map, Hirsch said.
Then strategies and priorities will begin to be implemented, and additional study will likely be necessary, including how all of the initiatives will be funded, she said.
White said the city’s track record of forging public/private partnerships, usually exceeding the plans, bodes well for turning all of the various ideas for growth and development into reality.
Connecting all of the downtown adjacent areas is key for the growth of the city, according to the master plan.
“We think one of your biggest issues facing you is to transform highways … and just make them urban streets, ones that can carry a lot of traffic, but are great to live on, ready to walk on, good for the quality of life,” Robinson said.
Bob Geolas, former CU-ICAR executive director now consulting on the master plan, called out the main corridors as problems.
“They’re dividing up the city; they’re getting in the way of transportation, mobility, walkability,” he said.
Unity Park area and the West End
Diversity in residents and housing options, integrating opportunities for local maker spaces, and keeping development in line with pedestrian and bike connectivity are key points for this transitional area as the park is built.
“Now you have this amazing park that’s going to happen, that’s an extension of the Swamp Rabbit Trail and the Falls Park, [and] really is going to be a pretty major change in the way you use the city,” Robinson said.
The main goal for this area is connecting Heritage Green to Main Street. The master plan also recommends the city consider making Heritage Green a city park with active programming and transforming Buncombe Street into an urban boulevard that would be safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
In the neighborhoods, reconnecting previously disconnected streets is necessary.
“We need to connect things up a little bit so we can walk from one place to the next,” Robinson said.
For the area between South Main Street and Church Street, the master plan cites several goals, including a proposed public-space spine to link to Reedy Creek, Falls Park, and South Downtown.
One proposal is to transform the space under the Church Street bridge into a public park.
Additionally, creating more front doors on the street and developing a strategy to recruit companies to that area are recommended.
Augusta Street and South Downtown
Keeping development to scale with the current one- or two-story buildings along Augusta Street was identified as key to this area’s identity.
Proposed infill development remains on the same scale along the street but steps up several stories toward the back. Additional parking around the existing Gather GVL site is recommended, along with connecting the surrounding neighborhood with bikeable and walkable trails.