By Alan Ethridge
Provincialism has always been a major deterrent to progress, and there is no more flagrant example of this than recent denial of the Peace Center to renovate the Wyche Pavilion by the City of Greenville’s Design & Review Board (DRB). This decision is ironic especially in light of our city leadership priding itself on Greenville’s burgeoning national reputation as a tourist attraction, a business-oriented metropolis and a cultural destination. What the renovations would bring to the entire community can be viewed as nothing but a tremendous asset with significant economic benefits.
If one were to choose a single organization that has had the most profound impact on Greenville in the last 30 years, it would have to be the Peace Center. From its opening in 1990, the Peace Center has evolved into one of the country’s most reputable and most financially secure performing arts centers. It is because of the Peace Center that the West End district is thriving with retailers, restaurants and businesses. The Peace Center also plays a major role in attracting new businesses to the area because of the vast cultural offerings it presents to the community.
How and why the (DRB) denied the Peace Center’s request is mind-boggling, and some of the printed comments have been completely illogical. The assumption that enclosing the edifice will devalue it is counterintuitive, as it is obvious that just the opposite is true. One member of the opposition was quoted as saying “no ticket, no pass is necessary” to walk through the facility. As if walking through the Wyche Pavilion is the artistic equivalent of purchasing a ticket to Hamilton? Just how many people view the ground level of the Wyche Pavilion as a cultural destination? Does standing on the concrete floor of the Pavilion have the historical and cultural significance of visiting the Coliseum in Rome? At the meeting on July 9, one member of the opposition voiced that the proposed plans reminded her of “a train.” Would the renovations be more palatable if they reminded one of an airplane or an automobile?
Everything that the Peace Center has done to its campus since its opening has been first class, and its additions have been designed and implemented with the entire community in mind. The recent renovations have made the Graham Plaza a focal point of South Main Street. Expansions such as the TD Stage and Genevieve’s Lounge have provided the public with additional performance venues for expanded cultural offerings with price points designed to fit virtually every budget. The Peace Center has a proven track record of quality programming, community-mindedness and financial stability. What is there not to trust?
This level of provincialism has been seen before – most recently in opposition to the construction of Falls Park on the Reedy and Fluor Field. Can anyone honestly say that these amenities are not outstanding community assets that have drawn residents and visitors to downtown? By enclosing the existing structure and transforming it into another community asset without deterring from its beauty, the proposed Wyche Pavilion would provide even more music and entertainment options for the public.
The late American astronomer, J. Allen Hynek, once commented, “We suffer, perhaps, from temporal provincialism, a form of arrogance that has always irritated posterity.” The DRB’s decision to deny these renovations is the ultimate example of such arrogance. The Peace Center, its Board of Directors, its staff, its donors and its constituents are to be applauded in their efforts to make Greenville an even more outstanding cultural center. We should all look forward to these renovations eventually becoming a reality and look back at the DRB’s misguided decision with regret.