City leaders say Travelers Rest has become a destination, not just a town you drive through on your way to the mountains. They said it took more than $4 million, several years of work and the development of a trail to get downtown Travelers Rest to where it is today.
Main Street Travelers Rest used to be a five-lane thoroughfare, according to city administrator Dianna Turner, who started her job there in 2005.
“It didn’t look like a Main Street at all,” she said. “Council’s goal for years, prior to my coming here, was to figure out a way to change that.”
More than just a stop on the road
Years ago there was a two-lane road through Travelers Rest, with some on-street parking and plenty of viable businesses, according to Turner. “But DOT widened the road, and took away the on-street parking, and it became more of a thoroughfare, just a way to get from Greenville to the mountains,” she said.
The slogan for the city at that time supported the notion that Travelers Rest was just a place to pass through.
“A sign on 276, which is our Main Street, said ‘On the Way Up,’” Turner said. “If you think about it, it’s saying you’re on your way to another destination, keep going.”
New branding for the city includes the slogan “It starts with TR.” Turner said there are a lot of words that start with ‘TR’ – trail, trendy, etc. Those words are used on the banners hanging along Main Street.
“TR really has become a destination for people. And so when we did this branding campaign, we did it knowing, or hoping, that all of these great things would happen and they did,” she said.
The Swamp Rabbit component
As plans came together to revitalize downtown and Main Street, something else was happening – the paving of the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail. The paving started at Travelers Rest, Turner said.
“Everything here has sort of evolved around the trail. It’s been critical to our redevelopment,” she said. “It parallels our Main Street. We knew it was a great opportunity.
“First of all, it’s another mode of travel to get people into the city,” she continued. “And second, it’s taking this old abandoned rail bed and turning it into something. It was really beneficial we were doing our Main Street revitalization at the same time.”
It was the trail that helped bring sisters Joyce and Nancy McCarrell to Travelers Rest to open The Café at Williams Hardware. The restaurant is situated between Main Street and the trail.
“When we were looking for a place to locate a restaurant we knew that the trail was going to be important to whatever we decided to do,” Joyce McCarrell said. “Without that trail, we wouldn’t be here, the ice cream shop wouldn’t be here, other shops wouldn’t be here.”
Blazing a trail
Part of the revitalization along the trail included the creation of what Turner called pocket parks. The city also bought the old Travelers Rest High School and turned the property into Trailblazer Park, which includes an amphitheater and an open air pavilion. A new fire station has been built and there are plans to move city hall from State Park Road to the park. Trailblazer Park is accessible from Main Street and the Swamp Rabbit Trail by way of connectors the city constructed.
“What we’re trying to do with Trailblazer Park is extend Main Street. There’s this whole undeveloped block of property that could be an extension of Main Street,” Turner said “Right now it’s just prime for the right developer.”
Main Street was Phase I of downtown revitalization for the city and Trailblazer Park was Phase II, according to Turner. She said, between the amphitheater, fire station and the city hall move, the town has invested nearly $8.5 million in the park.
Work on revitalizing Main Street began in 2006 and construction started in 2009. Turner said the $4.4 million investment did exactly what city leaders had hoped it would do – generate private investments.
“Other than Sunrift Adventures, people used to not have a reason to stop in Travelers Rest as they headed to the mountains,” Turner said. “The revitalization efforts, and the trail, helped bring business and visitors downtown.”
Turner said that prior to the revitalization there were fewer than 10 viable business along Main Street. Now that number has quadrupled.
“Dining establishments alone, we’ve added nine restaurants where there was one before, and there are more coming,” she said. “The last two empty buildings that are on the non-trail side of Main Street will likely include at least one restaurant.”
What’s next for Travelers Rest?
Phase III of downtown revitalization will extend Main Street down Poinsett and Center streets.
“We are very early in the process on Phase III. We don’t know what that cost will look like yet – it gets more expensive every day,” Turner said, adding that just redoing Trailblazer Drive, a quarter-mile stretch of road beside the park, was a $600,000 project.
“Right now we are in a really good position and we don’t want to over extend ourselves, so we’re taking our time,” she said. “There are so many things we want to do.”