On Development and Smart Growth

Development dominated the agenda of our last Committee of the Whole meeting.  As did talk of smart growth and traffic concerns.  These are concerns Council hears from YOU.  And we are reflecting those concerns in our discussions around and decisions about proposed development.

Late last year, Council unanimously voted down a project at the corner of Neely Ferry and S. Baldwin.  As I explained here, this was a request for a major change to the plan originally submitted after the city annexed this property in 2006. It is known as Waterleaf at Neely Ferry and is located right behind Food Lion.

We explained several reasons why we were opposed to this proposed development. You can read about that here.

As a result, the developer “went back to the drawing board.”  In between the December meeting and our Committee of the Whole meeting in February, I had the opportunity to speak directly to the developer, Graycliffe Capital. And at the most recent meeting, they presented a new plan to Council, one that I am really excited about.  Here’s why:

  1. One of Council’s concerns was about a blind spot created by a hill on Neely Ferry as you coming past S. Baldwin towards W. Georgia Rd. If you drive this route, you know what I’m talking about: it’s difficult to see at all what’s coming and can be very dangerous.  Graycliffe heard us, and they brought a solution.  They spoke to SCDOT about what it would take to resolve this issue.  SCDOT will not itself do anything to correct the issue.  However, Graycliffe has offered to fix it at their expense.  They will basically shave down the road to eliminate the hill that creates the blind spot. This, to me, is one of the best things about this project.  We will get road improvements we would otherwise never get.  We get to address an existing safety concern that would only have been made worse by more traffic.  This is the kind of response from developers we like to and should see.
  2. Another concern was the entry/exit onto S. Baldwin. Council simply does not believe that S. Baldwin can handle additional traffic.  Problem solved: entry and exit onto S. Baldwin will be gated and protected by a Knox Box.  This will prevent anyone other than emergency vehicles from entering.  Emergency vehicles must be able to enter because that’s required.
  3. I recently wrote about the importance of sidewalks and connectivity. Another major plus for me is that this neighborhood will be connected internally and externally by sidewalk. It will be completely walkable.  The developer will connect to the existing sidewalk on Neely Ferry in front of the Food Lion.  This connection will allow those who live at the Water Leaf to walk easily and safely to buy groceries at Food Lion or pick up prescriptions at CVS.  And because we already have crosswalks and walk signals at the intersection of Neely Ferry and West Georgia Rd., they’ll also be able to walk their children to Plain Elementary.
  4. The plan we saw in December was for an all residential project. And as I mentioned previously, this area had been identified for mixed use. The developer took note of our objection to this change.  The new development is mixed use.  It features not just apartments but also office buildings.  Density has been reduced—there will be fewer apartments.  This is in keeping with the city’s vision for this area.
  5. Green space! The old plan basically levelled the property. The new plan preserves a significant amount of the natural area, saving existing trees and incorporating a new walking trail.

This new project is a wonderful example of smart growth. This is a development that helps Simpsonville.  I spoke in favor of this development at the Committee of the Whole meeting on February 27th.  I voted in favor of it.  Council unanimously voted yes.  The project will now appear on the March Business Meeting agenda for a final vote.

I hope that we see more authentic collaboration between developers and city officials in the future.  And I hope we see more results like this.

As presented to both the Planning Commission and Council at the February Committee of the Whole: screenshot_20180306-141608878466298.png

Growing Downtown with A-Tax Funds

Last night one of the topics Council discussed was the disbursement of A-Tax funds for the upcoming year.  As a reminder, A-tax (or accommodations tax) funds are those that are collected when we go out to local businesses and eat.  There’s an extra 2% tax. Once collected, that money is put into a Special Revenue Fund.  Those funds are restricted by state law to pay for things that serve and attract tourists and benefit those tourists who regularly visit the city. State law also dictates that an A-Tax Committee is appointed by Council to make recommendations regarding disbursement of available funds each year.

The A-Tax Committee receives applications for those funds.  They review them and make recommendations to Council.  Last night, we received their recommendations. One of the items I was most excited about was the awarding of funds for the building of public restrooms downtown.  With the exception of the Councilwoman from Ward 4, we all approved of this item.  Ms. Braswell expressed concern that such a project did not meet the A-tax guidelines. She doesn’t think they’re tourism-related.  I disagree.  So did Councilman Gooch and Mayor Curtis in their comments, and the other 3 councilmembers did by virtue of their votes.  The vote was 6-1.

Last Friday night, I went downtown, and it was hopping! People were everywhere. In large part, I believe this is because we have attracted the right businesses to our downtown area.  In the last several months, we’ve had many new establishments open: What’s on Tap, Sweet Sippin’, Authentique, and now Rail Line Brewing!  The new swings and the rejuvenated park benches all contribute to making downtown a great

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Let’s keep making downtown a great place to visit!

place to hang out.  So it’s not surprising that this is the first time I’ve seen downtown so busy outside of special events.  It was amazing.  And you better believe some of those people were from outside the city limits. Further, every time we hold an event downtown, we bring in people from outside the city.  But there’s no place to use the bathroom unless you visit one of the local businesses. So I don’t see how public restrooms for those people to use is anything other than a facility that will “benefit those tourists who regularly visit the city.”

Since this was a Committee of the Whole Meeting, we will have a final vote at our November Business Meeting.  I hope Council continues to support funding this item. It can only help as we continue to grow our downtown into a place where people want to visit and stay awhile, and that’s something I’ve been focused on since my Campaign Launch. It will also fit in nicely with the plan we submitted for the Hometown Economic Development grant to turn the empty downtown alley into a new dynamic outdoor space. I hope our new Council will share that vision for downtown and support projects like these.

 

Simpsonville SC will have one of the best concert venues in SC!

“What if we could guarantee you more, bigger, better concerts at the Amphitheater, thus increasing your revenue—without costing you a single penny more?”

That’s the question Roger Dickson of TRZ Entertainment brought to Council several months ago.

But doesn’t that sound too good to be true?  Who gets something for nothing?  No one, of course.  But Mr. Dickson and TRZ weren’t lying: they weren’t asking for a single penny more than we’ve been giving them.

What they did ask was for us to “put a little more skin in the game,” to make a bigger investment—not in cash, but in commitment level.  They asked for a 5-year contract for management of the amphitheater.  Up until now, they’ve been getting a one-year contract every year.

What do we get in return? Exactly what they promised—but we’re not relying on their word for it.  A couple months ago, TRZ presented us with an economic impact study, conducted by an expert third party at their expense, illustrating the huge gains we would receive from a stronger concert schedule.  This data, provided at Council’s request, drove our decision to approve the 5-year contract at last night’s Council meeting. Those bigger, better, more impactful concerts will come because TRZ is investing in a long-term contract with Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in America.  This is something TRZ would be unable to do without a longer term commitment from the City.

This new agreement guarantees a better concert schedule—with more big-name entertainers.  This is possible (in part) because, as the largest live entertainment company in the country, Live Nation is able to buy full concert series and schedule whole tours across the country at the various concert venues with whom they contract.  And this means a bigger economic impact for Simpsonville.

This was no overnight decision, nor one we took lightly: it was something that TRZ and the City have been working on for some time.  And last night, we finally arrived at a contract to which both parties agreed. Council unanimously approved the new contract after an Executive Session to review that final contract.

Many thanks to Mr. Roger Dickson from TRZ, Mr. Robbie Davis (Department Head, Simpsonville Parks & Recreation), Mr. Eddie Case (former City Administrator), Mr. Wesley Williams (current City Administrator), and Mr. David Holmes (City Attorney) for all of their hard work on this project.  Thanks to their efforts, we will now have one of the best concert venues in South Carolina—and Simpsonville will reap the rewards of its success.

 

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Hometown Economic Development

What if this empty, rarely used alley downtown were a dynamic outdoor space providing public restrooms and a safe gathering/event space?

Downtown Alley
Alley across from the Ice Cream Station on SE Main St.

That’s our vision! That’s why City staff have applied for a $25,000 Hometown Economic Development grant from the Municipal Association of SC.  Here’s the best part about this grant opportunity: like many grants, it requires a match from the City.  In this case 15%. But it doesn’t have to be in cash–it can be in in-kind contributions.

This project was one our recently passed City Administrator Eddie Case was excited about. And I am glad we are moving forward to try to make this vision a reality.  More details about project costs and potential in-kind contributions will be presented to Council at the next Business Meeting, where we’ll be asked to pass a resolution supporting the grant application.

This is a great opportunity for us to make the most of underutilized public spaces in our historic downtown, which requires attention to pedestrian amenities as it continues to grow. This project will be great for downtown, our residents, and economic development.

Simpsonville Chamber 2017 A-List Awards

Tonight I got to attend our Simpsonville Area Chamber of Commerce 2017 Annual Celebration. Our Chamber does great work all year long to help make our city great. The Chamber has 400 members. 97 of those were nominated by members of this community to receive recognition as “the best of the best.” There were 16 categories, and over 1000 votes to determine the finalists. Tonight, we celebrated together the successes and contributions of the 2017 A-List businesses: Main Street Dental, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, Chick-fil-A of Simpsonville (Fairview Rd.), Country Store at Vaughn’s, Ray Thompson’s Upstate Karate, Merle Norman of Simpsonville, Sportsclub Simpsonville, Cleveland Park Animal Hospital, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Danny Smith’s Fillin’ and Fixin’ Station, Allen Tate Realtors, The Springs at Simpsonville, Events at Sapphire Creek, The Greenville Swamp Rabbits, and Allstate Insurance: Cornell Sweeney.

Tonight we also celebrated the graduates of Leadership Simpsonville. This group of people is responsible for both the swings you’re seeing go up downtown AND the Sensory Playground that we’ll be installing at City Park in the very near future. They raised well over their $20,000 goal for that playground. We are so fortunate to have such dedicated people willing to give of their time, talents, and energy to make our city great. We haven’t seen the last of these folks–they‘re going to be making a difference in Simpsonville for years to come. Thanks and kudos to Morgan Balchin of Davis Orthodontics, PA, Marnie Schwartz-Hanley of Simpsonville Area Chamber of Commerce, Brittney Sweeney Brockman of Allstate Insurance: Cornell Sweeney, Seretta Halley of Hampton Inn, Dr. Rebecca Holmes of Main Street Dental, Frank Wilburn of Greenville Technical College Brashier Campus, Kevin Willmot of Edward Jones Investments, and Discover Simpsonville‘s own Tiffany Cherry and Chad Foster! 

sensory playground

Grand Central @ Martin Farms

Many people have been wondering what’s going on at the corner of Fairview and Harrison Bridge Roads.  Here are the details, courtesy of a Press Release issued today:

The Windsor Aughtry Company and the City of Simpsonville announce new commercial development, Grand Central @ Martin Farms, located at the intersection of Fairview Road and Harrison Bridge Road.

 The Martin Family Farm has a long and storied history in Simpsonville dating back to the late 1800’s. In the early 1990’s, J.R. (Bob) Martin recognized the growth and development in Simpsonville as an opportunity. He told the family “you can’t stop progress. Change is inevitable, but growth is an option.”  Mr. Martin, a man who valued trust and integrity, worked with Windsor Aughtry Company to sell the northeast and southeast corners of the intersection of Fairview Road and Harrison Bridge Road and to later land lease the northwest corner of the property.  The southwest corner stood untouched as Mr. Martin vowed to remain in the house that stood on Martin Farms. He did so until his passing in 2011 at the age of 86 years old.

 The Martin family was immediately approached by developers regarding the last undeveloped corner. Through lots of thought and prayer, the family decided to honor their father’s vision of growth. When it was time to choose a developer, the family turned again to Windsor Aughtry Company, the company that Mr. Martin had first worked with over 20 years ago.

 It was important for the Martin family to not only retain ownership of the land, but for the new development to also honor the history of the farm. The development, which will feature 120,000 sq. ft of anchor and junior retail space, 9,600 sq. ft. shop space, and 6 outparcels, will incorporate special and unique features from the farm. Bricks from the home in which Mr. Martin lived for 80 years were carefully salvaged to be used in signage. An old water trough for the cows, stones that served as benches, and even the headstone of the first horse, Fairytale, were also excavated and preserved to be featured in the development.  The silo, an iconic landmark which stood prominently on the land, was not structurally sound but will be replicated on the property. Even the development name, Grand Central @ Martin Farms, is a nod to the old family nickname for the farmhouse. The whole look and ambiance of the development will be reminiscent of Martin Farms.

 Publix Super Markets, working with JSI Development,  is the first Grand Central @ Martin Farms tenant to announce plans for the new development. The grocer will be vacating their existing store on Fairview Road  and will occupy the 54,000 sq. ft. anchor store in the development.  A junior anchor and out parcels will be announced at a later date.

 Work on the development has already begun; the Publix  is anticipated to open Fall of 2017.

martin-farm

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.