Developer Hughes believes Columbia can duplicate Greenville's success

Published: May. 20, 2014 at 8:41 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2015 at 5:56 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's a warm, breezy evening in the section of downtown Greenville they call the West End.

Dewayne and Jennifer Estes and daughters Chloe and Riley have just driven in from Gaffney to check out Fluor Field. It's their first visit to the home of the Greenville Drive.

"It's an awesome experience for the family," said Dewayne. "They do a lot of things for families."

Dewayne is here for sure to watch baseball. He's a longtime fan of the Drive's parent club, the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. But there's much more to do after the game.

"We'll probably go eat with the family and have a night on the town," said Dewayne.

A town that just seems more alive than most this early in the week.

Consider this: About 3,500 people showed up to the stadium and many of them were very young. This was a Monday night in Greenville. And school hasn't let out for the summer yet.

That is exactly what Greenville leaders were aiming for when they began pulling together their baseball stadium plan about 10 years ago. A ballpark located at the site of an old lumberyard in what had been a sort of sketchy, declining area on South Main Street. They wanted something that would generate excitement, attract new investment, give people around the region a sense of community, and make a relatively small Upstate city feel bigger and more cosmopolitan.

"It's an attractive place to be," said Mary Douglas Hirsch, Greenville's Downtown Development Manager. "In Greenville, we spend a lot of time on what we call place-making. Creating places for people to sit comfortably. Destinations for them to enjoy like the baseball stadium."

"Everything from public art to the benches all match. The newspaper racks all look the same. And it's this coordinated approach and effort that the city really puts an emphasis on. And we feel like all of those elements working together creates a special place for the public."

That place includes not just baseball, but restaurants, shopping, and unusual offerings like The Growler Station, a craft beer outlet near the ballpark.

Co-manager Jon Richards, AKA the in-house beer expert, explains.

"This business wouldn't be here without the stadium," said Richards. "This end of downtown wouldn't be here without the stadium. The whole downtown moved about six streets this direction once they built that thing over there."

And the building is not over. A range of new residential development within a few blocks of the ballfield. An upscale apartment complex at Wardlaw and Rhett Streets is scheduled to open this summer. There's another project under construction not far away for renters with more modest incomes. The upstate and Greenville were well along in their evolution from a textile economy to one with a more diverse industrial base before the stadium opened in 2006, but adding the 6,500-seat ballpark to the mix accelerated much of the activity still surrounding the field.

"When they put in this stadium, this was kind of a run down area. And it really brought this end of the neighborhood way up," said Bryan Lawrimore with Mauldin. "You know the real estate property values have gone way up here."

Developer Bob Hughes, who is often credited with being the architect of Greenville's success, believes Columbia can duplicate what Greenville has done.

"Who wouldn't want to be around that? You know businesses want to be around that. Offices want to be around that," said Hughes.

Now, Hughes is spearheading the plan to transform the Capital City's 165-acre Bull Street property with a public-private partnership like the one that continues to grow Greenville.

"Two blocks from the stadium, three lots from a house that sold for $8,000 about seven years ago or eight years ago, they're building million and a half dollar townhouses," said Hughes.

Hughes says the project, called Columbia Common, is generating strong interest. He says retailers scheduled more than 100 meetings with his company at a shopping center convention in Las Vegas that wraps up today.

For the public, Greenville's Fluor Field was nowhere near as expensive as the ballpark that will be created here. The total cost of that ballpark was about $29 million, but almost $21 million came from private investment.

In Columbia, the city and taxpayers will fork over at least $29 million just for the stadium with much more for the rest of the development, infrastructure, and possibly parking garages.

But Hughes and supporters say look at what that investment will reap in future tax revenues and quality of life improvements.

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