6 Month Check-in

It’s been (a little over) 6 months, so it seems like a good time for a recap.

When I was campaigning, I told you that I wanted Simpsonville to focus on three areas: economic development, community & culture, and One Simpsonville, United.

Let’s look at those more closely:

Economic Development:

As I’ve said before, in a city like Simpsonville, community development IS economic development, and as I said at the June Committee of the Whole Meeting, successful municipal community and economic development begins with elected officials making an organizational commitment to community and economic development. At that time, I made a motion to charge our City Administrator with creating a strategic plan for community and economic development in Simpsonville. The Committee moved that motion to the July 12th business meeting for consideration of Council, and Council approved us moving forward with such a plan. This is great news in light of the recently announced MASC economic development grants.

In support of community and economic development, several business and community leaders presented to Mayor Curtis and the City of Simpsonville a check for $1000.00 to illustrate their commitment to partnering with the City in a One Simpsonville effort to make economic development a priority. The City of Simpsonville will seek to grow the account by pursuing grants and in future budgeting efforts.

Community & Culture:

Museum Signs: In April, I was contacted by the Simpsonville Museum of Revolutionary War History (which is run completely by volunteers). They wanted to know if the city could help them purchase some signage to help let the public know their location and hours. I told them that I didn’t think the city could afford to do that given the great number of critical needs we were currently reviewing in our budget workshops. However, I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring together some citizens, businesses, and our government in a One Simpsonville effort to help increase access to this cultural service through signage. So I reached out to Jason Knudsen, our City Planner, to inquire about what kinds of signs would work for the Museum’s purpose. Then, I reached out to our community to ask for their help. Within just two days, we had collected enough money to purchase appropriate signage. Today, if you drive past the historic Simpsonville Elementary School building, you can see these portable sidewalk signs that indicate the location and operating hours of the museum.

Arts Center Feasibility Study: As of July 8th, the Arts Center Feasibility study is officially underway! Read the most recent progress update here. We first started talking about this back in March. Since then, the motion passed from Committee of the Whole to full Council, where it was approved. Mr. Dyrhaug and Mr. Knudsen have since pulled together the appropriate people to help complete the study, so we can determine once and for all whether or not it’s feasible to house an Arts Center in the historic Simpsonville Elementary School. Further, the group of people working together on that feasibility study include business owners, citizens, city staff, and non-profit representatives—and that’s what One Simpsonville is all about.

 Symphony (free!): We brought the Greenville Symphony Orchestra back to Simpsonville for the Independence Day Celebration at Heritage Park. And we were able to do it with free parking and free admission, increasing access to community and cultural programs and services. We were able to offer it free by embracing the One Simpsonville spirit of collaboration and partnership. The event was made possible by partnering with the following:

  • Greenville County,
  • Greenville Health Systems,
  • Greenville Technical College,
  • Lockheed Martin, and
  • Laurens Electric Cooperative.


One Simpsonville, United:

In addition to all the One Simpsonville examples above, we have a few more efforts that come to mind. What these efforts share is a concerted effort to invite citizens, businesses, and non-profits to participate in the processes and projects of the City. They also share a willingness to be open and responsive to the ideas, suggestions, and desire to help improve the community presented by members of our community.

Fire Safety House/Modern Woodmen of America Partnership: This is such a great example of the true One Simpsonville spirit. In this venture, we have truly united our city—its citizens, its businesses, and its government—working together for continuous improvement. Read more about how here.

 Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County: While the City was not an official partner in the recently completed build on Boyd Ave, several city leaders attended the wall-raising and the dedication ceremony and met with Habitat leaders to discuss how to create an effective, mutually beneficial relationship as we move forward. This is important because the Boyd Ave project did include partnerships with many private citizen volunteers, local businesses, and our local faith community. We need to continue to grow such relationships.

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We’ve strengthened our relationship with our Chamber of Commerce. Chamber leaders will be intimately involved in the formulation of the strategic plan for economic development. Recently, the Chamber’s Leadership Simpsonville group presented to us their planned projects for this year, which include the construction of an ADA-approved Sensory Playground and swings and signage for downtown. These projects will be a huge asset to our community. Council voted unanimously to support the projects. You can help donate to the Sensory Playground here. In another recent partnership, the Chamber and the City of Simpsonville worked together to collect, assemble, and distribute appreciation packages to the employees of the Simpsonville Police Department.

We did all of this while also passing a budget with no tax increase. And we worked with Public Works on a plan to privatize some of our sanitation services to save money and increase the quality of service to our citizens.

It’s been a busy year so far, and I’m not saying it’s been perfect, but I am saying this: we’re making progress. We’re moving in the right direction. And we’re going to continue on this path because that’s what’s best for Simpsonville.

Arts Center Feasibility Study Update

1462888226112On July 8th, a meeting was held at the historic Simpsonville Elementary School to begin the work for the feasibility study for the Arts Center (read previous posts related to the Arts Center here). This feasibility study will be completed under the leadership of Mr. Jason Knudsen.

Community members representing these areas of experience will work on the study: grant writing, historic preservation, performing arts, visual arts, architecture/engineering, Simpsonville Arts Foundation, and the Simpsonville Revolutionary War Museum. Each member will volunteer their time and work together to research and answer the questions within each section of the study.

This feasibility study will determine whether an arts center can be successful in Simpsonville. The purpose is to identify roadblocks that may prevent the successful implementation of an arts center. The study will consist of four main components: market analysis, organizational analysis, building and equipment analysis, and financial analysis.

A. Market Analysis

Market analysis is extremely critical in determining the success of an arts center and should be completed first. If the analysis concludes there isn’t a need or a customer/user base, the project is deemed not feasible and the study concludes. Finding answers to the following questions is vital when conducting the market analysis:

  1. What is the current demand for the proposed services/products?
  2.  What are the target markets/demographics?
  3. What are the common characteristics of the target markets/demographics?
  4. What competition exists in the market, how do they operate and what services do they provide?
  5. Can a market niche be established to enable the arts center to compete effectively with existing competition?
  6. How successful is the competition (user counts, profits, occupancy, etc.)? Is the location of the arts center likely to affect its success?

B. Organizational Analysis

If the market analysis supports and shows a need for an arts center, the next step is to determine how the center should be managed. The legal business structure needs to be identified first in order to best understand personnel needs. The following questions will help form the organizational structure:

  1. What legal organizational structure is right for the arts center?
  2. Is a board of directors or a single program director appropriate?
  3. What qualifications should the board/director have?
  4. What qualifications are needed to manage day to day operations?
  5. What other staffing needs will be required and how might that change over the next 2-3 year?

C. Building and Equipment Analysis

In repurposing an older building, renovations and new equipment will be necessary. A thorough analysis of the existing structure will identify required renovation. Equipment needs can cover a wide range of items from telephones to ceramic furnaces and specialized equipment. The key at this stage is to identify what will be needed and the cost. The following are questions to consider during this analysis:

  • Building: What will require renovation? What is the itemized cost and timeline for renovation? How does the ability to complete renovations affect the start-up timeline?
  • Equipment: What are the equipment needs for the arts center? Where will the equipment be sourced form? When can the equipment be obtained?How does the ability to obtain equipment affect the start-up timeline? What is the cost associated with each item/service?

D. Financial Analysis

Financial analysis is the last step to a feasibility study due to the other components being necessary for an accurate understanding of costs and revenue. If the previous steps are not thorough, the financial analysis will not be adequate. The risk here is that the study may show the arts center to be feasible when in reality it’s not. Financial analysis is broken into the following five categories:

  • Start-Up Costs: These are the costs incurred in starting the arts center. These costs include renovations, equipment, etc.
  • Operating Costs: These are the ongoing costs, such as utilities and wages.
  • Revenue Projections: This is an assessment of estimated monthly revenue fromrent and programing.
  • Sources of Financing: Potential lending, donation, and grant sources should be identified.
  • Profitability Analysis: Using the costs and revenue analysis, this step shows the “bottom line” and if the arts center will bring in enough revenue to cover operating expenses. If it’s determined the center will lose money, changes may be made to the proposed programming to see if the bottom line improves.

Since the meeting, the team has started the market analysis.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Arts Center Feasibility Study Update

Arts Center Feasibility Study Update: The Study Committee should be finalized no later than May 13th, 2016. Once finalized, staff will organize an orientation meeting for all involved, based on their availability. The goal of that meeting is to familiarize everyone with each other and the role they will play in the feasibility study. Groups will be formed from the Committee and given tasks to complete concerning the study. Each group will be responsible for creating a timeline to complete their tasks. Staff will support each group and ensure progress is made in a timely manner.

See previous blog post for more on the Arts Center Feasibility Study.


Feasibility Study for Arts Center

As you know, the City owns the former Simpsonville Elementary School building. The City has no definitive plan for its use or its renovation. Therefore,

motion on arts center

The purpose of the feasibility study is to define the project’s benefits, strategic fit, and otherwise justify (or not) the project. Project costs and schedule are also determined in this phase (to a +/- 30% margin of error). Feasibility requires the study team to identify issues which must be resolved prior to project implementation and to develop a practical plan for moving forward once feasibility is approved. Feasibility includes evaluation of liabilities and risks that the City may need to mitigate as a result of a project’s implementation. This feasibility study shall be complete by no later than the first Committee of the Whole Meeting in January 2017. At that time, the team will submit to Council its findings, a formal recommendation, and all supporting documentation.

The project team will be supervised by an advisory team. The purpose of the advisory team is to guide and evaluate the work of the project team. They should critique the team’s work, make sure team recommendations follow logically from analysis, help craft recommendations and proposals so they will be understood by stakeholders, and identify issues the team needs to address in order to successfully evaluate and implement the project. I propose that the advisory team for this project be composed of David Dyrhaug, City Administrator; Jason Knudsen, City Planner; and Mayor Curtis, representing the Council.

The project team should be comprised of a variety of subject matter experts and stakeholders who have a vested interest in the project and have agreed to the time commitment. This team will be composed of 1) at least one member of the board of the Simpsonville Arts Foundation, Inc.; 2) at least one member with grant-writing and/or fundraising experience; 3) at least one member with experience in historical preservation and/or restoration; 4) at least one member with a background in construction; 5) at least one member representing the performing arts; 6) at least one member representing the visual arts; and 7) at least one citizen who has a vested interested in the project.  Notably, some of these requirements may be met by more than one member to keep the team at a more manageable level.  The advisory team shall be charged with appointing the project team and making adjustments to it during the course of the project as needed.

Setting SMART Goals

planning meetingIn preparation for today’s first planning meeting,we councilmembers were each asked to write 3-5 SMART goals and bring them for discussion.  SMART goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Incidentally, I teach SMART goals regularly as part of my job.

The goals that I brought to the table were these (Note: the last one isn’t really complete. I need more information) :

  • By 1 January 2017, we will have hired an economic development director to promote the business and economic development interests of the city.
  • By 31 January 2017, we will have completed a feasibility/design phase study for converting the historic school building into a functioning community arts center by 2020.
  • By 29 February 2017, we will have completed a design phase study for energizing the downtown area in fulfillment of the goals and objectives of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, so we will have a thriving downtown (with businesses, activities, etc.) by 2022.

This study will include specific project goals and objectives; project scope; key decisions; a formal recommendation; and a benefits & financial analysis. It will include design and implementation costs as well as a key milestone schedule. It will identify key assumptions and constraints as well as liabilities and risk management.

  • By 29 February 2017, we will have completed a feasibility/design phase study to build a new Municipal Complex, so we can better serve the needs of our community by 2022.

This study will include specific project goals and objectives; project scope; key decisions; a formal recommendation; and a benefits & financial analysis. It will include design and implementation costs as well as a key milestone schedule. It will identify key assumptions and constraints as well as liabilities and risk management.

  • By 31 December 2016, we will conduct a thorough assessment of the Public Works Departments and develop a long-term plan for meeting the needs of that department to ensure we provide high quality services.

Of course, these aren’t the ONLY goals we’ll have or even the only ones I think are important. It’s just the 5 I brought with me for this activity.

Community and Cultural Programs Contribute to Economic Development

In my campaign launch speech, I shared a vision for Simpsonville–a vision that includes making economic development a top priority and committing to community and cultural programs and services.

On community and cultural programs and services, I called for a comprehensive plan that does 3 things:

  1. provides access to the arts for all citizens;artssimpsonville
  2. supports programs that educate, inform, and inspire through a variety of cultural activities;
  3. and contributes to the overall economic development of our city.

Let me share with you a story that illustrates one reason why this is important: Not long ago, I posted on Facebook about an upcoming event sponsored by the Simpsonville Revolutionary War Museum.  Immediately two non-Simpsonville residents responded: “There’s a history museum in Simpsonville? I had no idea! I’m going to have to come down there and check it out!” Community and cultural programs and services draw visitors to a city.  Once here, those visitors check out the rest of the city.  Imagine if there were enough community & cultural programs that people could spend a full day in Simpsonville–visiting the museum, learning about our local history, taking in a show (maybe a play performed on the stage of the old Simpsonville Elementary School).  Imagine they spend the day shopping, eating.  Imagine the revenue that could generate for the city, the positive impact it could have on our small, local businesses.

When we head out to Greenville, Mauldin, or Fountain Inn to take part in community or cultural programs and services, we’re giving them our tax dollars, we’re supporting their local economies.  Why wouldn’t we want to support our own?  And why wouldn’t we want to not just keep our dollars here but also draw in visitors who would spend their money here?  Visitors who would tell their friends: “Simpsonville is a great place to spend a day…or a weekend. You really need to check out what Simpsonville has to offer.”

Again I say, community development is economic development.  A commitment to cultural programs and services contributes to the overall economic development of a city.  It’s time to focus on that.

Excerpts from the Launch Speech

jenn announce 3On July 16th, we had a campaign launch party at Carolina Olive Oil in Downtown Simpsonville.  More details from this event, including, pictures, video, and speech highlights are forthcoming.

Here are some excerpts from my speech that highlight my platform:

We need to make economic development a top priority. It is vitally important that we implement strategies to retain and grow current businesses. It is equally important that we implement strategies to facilitate economic opportunity—to attract new businesses to Simpsonville and to support them as they become established in our community.

We need a stronger commitment to community and cultural programs and services. We need a comprehensive plan to provide access to the arts for all of our citizens. We need a comprehensive plan to support programs that educate, inform, and inspire through a variety of cultural activities. We need a comprehensive plan that contributes to the overall economic development of Simpsonville.

The museum, the school, arts & historic preservation, and economic development

We just celebrated Independence Day, commemorating our Declaration of Independence and the revolution through which our great nation was born.

Many people don’t associate South Carolina with the Revolutionary War.   But SC–and in particular Upstate SC–played an important role in the war for independence.  That’s one of the reasons why we have the volunteer-run and supported Simpsonville Museum of Revolutionary History–to preserve our place in that history.  I think it’s great that we have citizens who are proud of that history and dedicated to preserving it, and I think we should do more to support such endeavors.  It’s part of why I argued in support of allowing the museum to remain in its current location at the historical Simpsonville Elementary School (an otherwise unused building with no concrete plans for it usage).  What follows is the letter (written May 19, 2015) that I submitted to council members on the topic of the museum and its place at the school building:

I am writing today in regards to the Simpsonville Revolutionary War Museum.  Recently, you voted against sending the discussion about its location in the elementary school back to committee.  The result is that now the Museum is being forced to move because the city is requiring $650/month in rent.  
I think this is a mistake.  Here’s why: the arts and historic preservation are important in their own right. We’ve discussed this previously in relation to the elementary school, so I won’t go back over that.  But one might also consider that a small, local museum has several other potential benefits. The museum could actually be a revenue generating source. “The historic city of Simpsonville” with its historic attractions (like a museum housed in a historical location) could draw in visitors–visitors who spend money in the city–visitors who tell their friends–visitors who have the chance to see what a great place Simpsonville is not just to visit but also to live. This would, of course, require us to invest in the museum, which would not necessarily mean spending money–but could just be through donated space, such as a few school rooms dedicated to non-profits.
 Further, small, local museums help to foster a sense of community pride: this is our history–of our place–of our people (transplants though some of us may be), and it’s a history that is rich, unique, and interesting. The more pride people have in their community, the more they participate and get involved in it, and the more they personally invest in it. It also provides a place for members of the community to get together, to get to know one another, to share, to be involved. This is always good for the community, especially when the events sponsored by the museum are located in the heart of our city (which increases traffic to our local merchants as an additional benefit). Obviously, given that the museum is a volunteer effort (much like the farmer’s market),the citizens of Simpsonville want it–and other opportunities for community participation and involvement like it. Thus, there are a number of good reasons to commit to encouraging and supporting the museum, so it really is a shame to see us choose not to do so. In fact, I think it’s a mistake–one our council should reconsider seriously.
Thanks for your time.
The museum, the school, arts & historic preservation, and economic development: they can all work hand in hand.  And they should.  For the betterment of the city as a whole. For One Simpsonville.