After months of little construction downtown, there are signs that Greenville is pulling ahead of a tough economy.
“Construction actually started last week,” said Leigh Cooper, spokeswoman for Sullivan Management, a Columbia restaurant firm that plans to open Carolina Ale House in the former Kimbrell’s building later this year. “We love Greenville’s downtown, and are looking forward to being a part of it.”
Hiring the wait staff of about 250 for what will be Sullivan Management’s fourth Carolina Ale House – two in Columbia and one in Augusta, Ga. – will likely begin sometime in October. A management team will be solidified at least two to three months prior to that in order to complete training. The Greenville restaurant will be the 15th in the Carolina Ale House chain, which started in Raleigh, N.C., in 1999.
The sports-themed restaurant will offer burgers, chicken wings, fish, steak and ribs, along with a bar with 40 beers on tap.
It also will have a retractable glass rooftop that will provide the equivalent of a rooftop dining experience that can be used in any kind of weather, Cooper said. Cooper said owner and developer Chris Sullivan got the idea from the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“The city is very excited,” said Mary Douglas Hirsch, downtown manager for the City of Greenville. “This fills a gap between East McBee Avenue and East Court Street, and we are thrilled to see a restaurant coming in there that already has proven successful in other cities.”
City leaders said it might be the necessary boost to get other projects moving again.
There is activity going on behind the scenes, said Nancy Whitworth, Greenville’s economic development director.
At least some of it centers around a development unveiled in 2008 as Washington Square, a major office, hotel and retail complex that would revamp nearly the entire city block formerly home to Woolworth, C.Q. Fashions and Young Fashions.
“We are still planning something really cool that I can’t let go of just yet,”‘ said Robert Martin, vice president of investments for TIC Properties. “It will be a little different, but the plan is still to make it a great development.”
Greenville Mayor Knox White said Washington Square is the “highest priority with the city. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it.”
What he did say is the $1 million the city recently received for selling its part of the Hyatt Regency to the Hyatt Corp. will likely benefit the Washington Square project.
One block south, plans for an office and retail development known as Main at McBee are moving again.
The development would be located at the corner of Main Street and McBee Avenue on the former site of the Kress dime store, perhaps best known in recent years by the children’s artwork displayed on the fence aournd it.
“We are still moving forward full steam ahead,” said Larry Webb, a principal and broker with KDS Commercial Properties. “We are finalizing a lot of the details, and also finishing the last pieces of our financing.”
CVS will anchor the first floor, and negotiations are ongoing with a tenant for the second floor office space, Webb said.
“With everything that has gone on in the banking industry, we’ve done a lot of restructuring to make it work for everyone,” he said. “We are working as hard as we can, and hope to break ground this fall.”
The design of a new 204,000-square-foot federal courthouse that will be located at the intersection of East North, North Irvine, East Coffee and North Spring streets will begin this fall with construction beginning in 2013.
That facility is expected to cost upwards of $60 million, and will provide space for the U.S. District Court, U.S. Magistrate Court and other federal agencies, while the current Clement F. Haynsworth Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on East Washington Street would likely be used for bankruptcy court.
City officials said the developers of a proposed luxury hotel at the corner of McBee Avenue and Spring Street have talked about reviving that project more than two years after construction stopped.
Still, the Greenville businessmen who want to build the Peacock Hotel would need to raise about $18 million from investors before work could begin again on a scaled-back version of their plan, which doesn’t include a spa, but still has an elevated patio and high-end retail space.
Local developers Grant Peacock and Mark Kent broke ground on what was initially proposed as a 94-room luxury hotel and spa in the summer of 2007, using their own money to get the project under way. Construction was stopped at the beginning of 2008.
White said while the city is continuing to actively try and attract and recruit tenants to fill vacant retail and office space, one of the biggest needs for downtown going forward is residential apartments.
The potential for apartment space exists along the Reedy River in the West End and with one of Greenville’s best known vacant properties, the former site of the old Greenville Memorial Auditorium.
At present, no new plans have been announced for the privately held property.
“My personal opinion is that it would be a great site for apartments,” White said.