As a neighbor, Spartanburg has paid attention to Greenville becoming a city where walking distance is a pleasure. The watching is over. Spartanburg’s downtown and surrounding environs are teeming with projects that enhance living spaces, workplaces, restaurants and fun venues with pedestrian appeal.
Spartanburg’s textile heritage is showcased in restored mill and warehouse properties. Greenville restaurateur Rick Erwin is expanding to the still-under construction Drayton Mills Marketplace, about a mile from downtown Spartanburg.
About 70 new businesses have opened in Spartanburg over the past three years, city spokesman Will Rothschild said. Drayton Mills developer John Montgomery is leading an effort to fund a 30-mile recreational trail that will surround the city, similar to the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail that traverses Greenville’s downtown.
“It is dizzying,” Rothschild said of the building pace. “It is not all downtown. If you look at the major projects happening in the city right now, some of them are institutional and some of them are private investment. You have the AC Hotel …The Montgomery Building is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million to $25 million.”
The Drayton Mills Lofts apartments and Marketplace being developed at the former mill site represents a total investment of more than $50 million. Another five-story project with apartments and ground level restaurant-retail is planned downtown.
Rothschild said the Spartanburg Regional Health Care System relocated 600 administrative employees to a renovated site of the former Beaumont Mill as part of a $500 million facilities plan. Wofford College is building a basketball arena and an arts center. Downtown business owners and other voters in Spartanburg’s District 7 school system approved a tax increase for a $185 million building plan that includes a new high school.
Rothschild said the ongoing and planned projects “could all be happening simultaneously.”
“There are cities that say we do that every year. That has never before happened in this town and it’s all different kinds. It is everything from educational to medical to downtown residential,” Rothschild said. There are other “half a million, $250,000 projects and we are not even counting those.”
Rothschild said the city is spending about $2.5 million on eight different streetscape projects, including wider sidewalks and new outdoor seating as several restaurants are expanding, one opening a rooftop bar.
With a streetscape crew working outside the Olive and Then Some on Magnolia Street, sales associate Theresa Langford said the new look will hopefully “draw in people that may be walking Main Street and may overlook us. They are going to look down here and see trees and landscaping and the chairs outside next door” at a Mexican restaurant.
“So people are going to be drawn here,” said Langford, a former resident of England who moved to Spartanburg in 1982.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’ve been here long enough to see how really derelict downtown got because of the mall and everybody was going there…Now there are a lot of restaurants coming in. I am excited about the hotel coming in. They will have another rooftop bar. It is just happening now. It is a place to come. Even if you don’t live in Spartanburg it is a place to come and visit.”
Langford said being from England, she has been attracted to Greenville “because it is more European. Now Spartanburg is never going to take the place of Greenville but Spartanburg will have its own niche. It doesn’t want to be the same as Greenville. For me now it is a place that instead of going to Greenville, I’m not saying I don’t go occasionally to Greenville, but I am drawn now to downtown Spartanburg.”
Drayton Mills partner Montgomery said he is leading an effort to raise another $10 million toward a $22 million, 30-mile recreational trail that will “wrap around downtown” Spartanburg, similar to the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail that traverses Greenville’s downtown. The project will connect about five existing, shorter trails.
“We’ve already got committed about $12 million,” Montgomery said. “It’s a big community effort. I am eighth generation, so I am very committed to this community.”
One of the trail links goes through the new Drayton Mills Marketplace plaza next to the project’s 289 apartments at the renovated, historic mill site. Montgomery said he expects the apartments, offices, restaurants and retail outlets in the project will become part of the city. Erwin’s restaurant, a coffee shop, yoga studio and offices have already been announced as tenants. Remaining commercial space to be leased includes locations suited for other restaurants and retailers, as well as for a brewery, Montgomery said. He expects some tenants will be able to open in November.
The plaza between the apartments and marketplace will be adorned with string lights, Montgomery said. Erwin’s restaurant and possibly others that lease space in the project will have space for outdoor seating.
“We really want to create this atmosphere where people come, where they hang out,” Montgomery said. “They have a glass of wine and they decide where they want to eat dinner…We want to create a fun atmosphere.”
Montgomery’s partner, Tara Sherbert of Sherbert Consulting, TSC Investments LLC and TMS Development LLC of Charlotte that in 2013 acquired the 17-acre project site from Pacolet-Milliken, is overseeing the 289-unit Drayton Mills Lofts. She said the apartments she designed are about 60% leased and about 50% occupied. The units are one, two and three bedrooms and rent ranges from $950 to about $1,800 monthly.
Sherbert attributes Spartanburg’s growth to opportunities and the county’s economic development success.
“Spartanburg is really more at the beginning of its growth pattern,” Sherbert said “Just the community commitment and passion for Spartanburg is really incredible.
“When I went to get financing for this five years ago, when the market hadn’t popped, it was hard,” she said. “It was a hard, unproven market. Today it is the market that everyone wants to come into, period. I am having my investors and lenders out from the Midwest saying, ‘Tara what else can you do in Spartanburg?’ I have investors from the West Coast saying I want to invest in Spartanburg. It has changed 360.”
Montgomery said there are other new projects downtown that are fully leased.
“There is demand in Spartanburg for apartment living and certainly on the east side of Spartanburg where we are there has been no new multifamily construction in many, many years,” Montgomery said. He said living in Spartanburg has advantages over Greenville, such as a lower cost of living and fewer traffic problems.
“I would say the overall quality of life in Spartanburg is really attractive to newcomers to this area,” he said. “Downtown we’ve got a lot of new businesses opening up. There is a lot of good momentum happening and I think people want to be part of this success story that is being written right now.”
Erwin while visiting the site said the restaurant stems from a longtime concept he has had but “Spartanburg was not on my radar.”
“This is going to be high-end casual dining. It is not going to be white tablecloth. It is probably going to feel like it though, with the service and the food quality,” he said. “The check average is not going to be to my steak and seafood concept but I would imagine the check average is probably going to be between the mid-20s and the mid-30s.”
Erwin said Spartanburg’s growth direction and the feel of a “growing, thriving market” convinced him.
“What has happened in this city and in this market, there are a lot of right things being done here now,” he said.
Erwin said the move to Spartanburg reminds him of his decision to open the West End Grill in Greenville.
“A lot of people said in 05, Rick Erwin what in the world are you doing opening a restaurant in the West End? It wasn’t that long ago that you wouldn’t be caught in the West End after dark. But I had that vision. I knew where Greenville was going to grow. In my opinion there was only one way for Greenville to grow and expand in downtown. Much like this. What John has planned here is this magnificent plan for residential and additional retail and quality of life and it’s just a really, really exciting fit for us.”
Erwin said having 7,000-square-feet with seating for about 200, including some on a patio in the old mill setting, is significant.
“My father was in textiles but the significance is that I am proud of our textile heritage,” Erwin said. “We are having to do a lot of things in keeping with the historic and the preservation of the building and I’m fine with that.” He said the tin ceiling and other “elements that we are dealing with here are going to be exciting for the restaurant.”
Downtown, developer James Bakker of BF Spartanburg LLC has an agreement to purchase The Montgomery Building, a historic, 10-story structure that occupies a major intersection. Government agencies are also reviewing the renovation plans that aim to retain the historic appearance of the structure that for decades housed textile industry offices.
Bakker referred questions to Kevin Pogue, an NAI Earle Furman broker, who said renovations could begin this fall. He said the building will have 72 apartments in the upper floors, office space on the second floor and street level retail and restaurants.
“Folks are pretty pumped,” Pogue said. He said a city streetscape project on St. John Street will go to the front of the building.
“Spartanburg is coming alive,” he said. “People are working together, brokers and the community. Everybody is just fired up.”
Amid the frenzy of residential and commercial development in Spartanburg, attendance at the Carolina Panthers training camp at Wofford set a record and topped 100,000. Downtown businesses pulled in customers using sidewalk signs and Facebook postings promoting the NFL team and its black and blue colors.
“Up until a few years ago the most people that had ever come to a Panthers camp in a single summer was about 20,000,” Rothschild said. “It started steadily increasing as they started improving the experience over there and the team got better and Cam Newton arrived.”
Assistant City Manager Chris Story said the city’s growth can be measured by the number of inquiries “about specific spaces. It has been a much higher volume.”
Story said “downtowns are inherently interesting spaces and people are drawn to them. That affects every community but we are just now sort of seeming to get the widespread sense of potential for downtown Spartanburg. There has just been an uptick in that. More and more people are choosing it as a destination without having a specific plan in mind, just coming downtown and then deciding what to do.”
He said for a long time “evangelists for downtowns across the country have been coaching communities to think about the pedestrian experience and strip away our car-based mindset to think that only convenience matters. We have started to see that they are absolutely right, that if a walk is interesting, people will make it every day.”