Huntsville leaders full of ideas after visit to Greenville, S.C.(video)

Situated on the Reedy River, downtown Greenville, S.C., is one of the South’s biggest success stories. (Image courtesy City of Huntsville)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Mayor Tommy Battle returned from a weekend fact-finding trip to Greenville, S.C., feeling pretty good about Huntsville’s downtown.

“We’ve got a good start,” Battle said during a Tuesday news conference.

The Greenville trip, organized by the Big Spring Partners downtown redevelopment group, gave Battle and about 50 other local leaders a firsthand look at one of the South’s biggest success stories.

On life support 30 years ago, Greenville’s downtown is now alive with restaurants, public art and loft apartments overlooking pretty parks. Its minor league baseball team, the Greenville Drive, plays in a stadium modeled on Boston’s Fenway Park.

Battle took a Moleskine notebook to South Carolina and jotted down 26 “opportunity items” that he’d like to see in downtown Huntsville. Others on the trip made their own lists.

Greenville’s street signs make it easy for visitors to find downtown attractions. (Image courtesy City of Huntsville)

Easy-to-read street signs that direct visitors to key downtown attractions might be the first outgrowth of the Greenville trip.

Other things on Battle’s wish list will take patience: another “signature hotel” to help the city attract bigger conventions; parking garages with street-level retail space; figuring out the best way to redevelop East Clinton Elementary School after it closes.

“Too much change too quickly is not a good thing,” said Battle, “but no change at all is not good, either.”

“If we accomplish five things off that big list in the first year, we’ve made progress.”

Big Spring Partners Executive Director Mary Jane Caylor said seeing Greenville helped reinforce that downtown Huntsville is on the right track.

Within the past month, the center city has hosted Panoply Arts Festival, WhistleStop Weekend and Rocket City Brewfest. Thursday marks the return of the popular downtown Arts Stroll.

“It validated for me — and I think for a lot of people — that we’re doing a whole lot of good things downtown,” said Caylor.

Greenville has scores of multi-use projects that blend residential, retail and office space, and Battle said Huntsville is moving in that direction.

Twickenham Square, on the former public housing site, will include more than 230 loft-style apartments, a Publix supermarket, hotel, office tower and 22,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space caddy-corner from Huntsville Hospital.

City officials have agreed to provide up to $10 million toward the cost of a parking deck serving Twickenham Square.

Evans Quinlivan, a member of Big Spring Partners’ board of directors, said Greenville began its downtown renaissance 30 years ago by planting lots of trees to beautify the area.

Huntsville needs to continue to invest in downtown, said Quinlivan, because it’s a major drawing card for young professionals.

“If we’re going to continue to attract the best and brightest,” he said, “we’ve got to have a very vibrant downtown.”

via Huntsville leaders inspired, full of ideas after weekend visit to Greenville, S.C. | al.com.

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