For years now, the biggest expansion of the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail since its creation more than a decade ago has been in the works along busy Laurens Road.
The $6 million extension that stretches 4.5 miles from Cleveland Park to the CU-ICAR campus near Interstate 85 has been on the books since 2015, according to Kevin Howard, senior development planner for the city of Greenville.
After lengthy negotiations with private property owners for the land needed to connect the trail, Greenville County began ripping up rail lines to clear the way for the extension, which is on track to be completed by spring 2022.
“The priority is making the trail like a Main Street [with] front doors, patios spilling out onto the trail and quality lighting.” – Craig Davis, consultant
Ultimately, long-range plans call for extensions along the Golden Strip to Clinton in Laurens County, a spur toward Greer and an extension north of Travelers Rest into Slater-Marietta.
“We’re not going to be able to do all these projects at once,” Howard said. “We’re going to have to take a lot of small bites of the apple as the area grows and evolves.”
The city of Greenville had for years tried to convince the Greenville Country Club to allow a link to close a 1-mile gap that would have extended the Swamp Rabbit Trail northward from its dead end at Greenville Tech and Pleasantburg Drive to Lake Conestee.
But when the country club declined, the city shifted focus, setting aside $3.5 million to help build three bridges for the Laurens Road extension.
The new bridges will span some of Greenville’s busiest corridors: Laurens Road, Haywood Road and Verdae Boulevard.
Bids for the bridges have not been sent out, and a timeline for construction hasn’t been made available by the county, which is managing the project.
The most expensive of the bridges — a $1.5 million flyover bridge connecting the extension to the main trail at Cleveland Park — would start near the Willy Taco restaurant and go over Laurens Road.
“You can’t look at the trail without looking at Laurens Road because of the density of population that’s on the other side,” Craig Davis, a consultant for the project, said during a recent presentation to the public.
Already, tens of millions of dollars of private investment has cropped up along the corridor in anticipation of the economic windfall.
At the center is the 12-acre Holland Park development, which broke ground in October and will house new rooftop brewery concept Double Stamp Brewery, Charleston-based restaurant Home Town BBQ and a Flying Rabbit zip line adventure park.
Hundreds of new homes are also expected to be developed in the vicinity, said Davis, who projected the trail would drive a minimum $1.5 billion increase in property values over the next 10 years.
To achieve that, major improvements on Laurens Road will be needed. Among other things, the city’s Swamp Rabbit Trail Extension Master Plan calls for extra-wide crosswalks, better street lighting and a complete overhaul of the Pleasantburg Drive intersection, which Davis called a “terrible environment for pedestrians to try and cross.”
“Laurens Road today is what we call a ‘SCDOT special,’” Davis said. “It’s this normal five-lane road with lots of driveway cuts. We really want to transform it into a much more walkable corridor.”
Main Street feels
The master plan also identifies eight different locations along the trail for open spaces like playgrounds, protected conservation areas or wide green lawns.
“The priority is making the trail like a Main Street [with] front doors, patios spilling out onto the trail and quality lighting … just like in our downtown,” Davis said.
“This is really setting up a framework for future investments, both on the public side and on the private side.” – Kevin Howard, city of Greenville senior development planner
This ‘Main Street’ vibe is repeated throughout the 110-page Swamp Rabbit Extension master plan.
For the Washington Street area, the plan envisions trail-fronting developments like ground-floor retail and restaurants and hotel balconies that overlook pocket parks.
On Ackley Road in the Nicholtown community, there could be mixed-use storefronts, wider sidewalks, shady street trees and relocated utilities overhead.
Along Haywood Road, grimy industrial buildings near the Greenville Downtown Airport might be reclaimed, their backs opening up to the trail and grassy fields on airport property. Opportunities for new signage and “fun and whimsical” public art abound, according to Davis.
“This is really setting up a framework for future investments, both on the public side and on the private side,” said Howard, the city planner.
The Swamp Rabbit Extension Master Plan can now be viewed on the city’s website at greenvillesc.gov.
A public hearing is scheduled for the Planning Commission meeting on Dec. 17 before the plan goes to City Council in January.