Momentum in downtown Spartanburg has been building for several years.
But the current wave of economic and community development washing over the city’s urban center has the potential to be transformative.
For the first time since textiles and railroads were the substantial providers of commerce and growth in downtown, business leaders and residents believe the Hub City is on the cusp something special.
“We’ve seen a steady stream of growth since 2013,” said Will Rothschild, a spokesman for the city of Spartanburg. “Even within that context, we’ve never had this level of significant projects happening at one time.”
Video by Trevor Anderson
According to the city, $125 million has been invested in downtown since 2013. More than half of that is comprised of projects that are currently in progress.
At the corner of Daniel Morgan Avenue and West Main Street, downtown’s western gateway, construction continues on the $20 million, 10-story AC Hotel by Marriott. Spartanburg-based Johnson Development and OTO Development anticipate their 114-room grand-style hotel will be completed later this year.
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Greenville-based developer BF Spartanburg finalized its purchase of the 93-year-old Montgomery Building at 187 N. Church St. for $680,000 from Cypress Lending Group. The developer will renovate the building for 72 apartments, 10,000 square feet of space for restaurants and retail, and 11,680 square feet of office space. Interior renovations have already begun, and the exterior work will begin later this month. The $29 million project should be completed in August 2018.
On Monday, March 6, Greenville-based Blue Wall Real Estate, through its subsidiary Good Wall Aug Smith LLC, completed its purchase of the 91-year-old Aug. W. Smith department store building at 174 E. Main St, for $920,000. The company plans to invest $10.5 million to redevelop the building at the corner of Liberty and East Main Streets across from Denny’s Plaza into 45 luxury apartments and two ground-level retail spaces.
Rothschild said for several years the Montgomery and Aug. W. Smith buildings were at the top of the city’s priority list for redevelopment.
Places to Shop, Places to Eat
A few other projects promise to bring new residential, retail, and restaurant activity to downtown.
Spartanburg developer Royce Camp and his business partner Livia Cantrell are constructing a new five-story building at the northeast corner of Daniel Morgan Avenue and West Main Street across from the AC Hotel. The 40,000-square-foot building will have 30 apartments on the top floors and about 3,000 square feet for retail or restaurants on the ground floor.
Miyako Sushi Group’s new space at 118 Magnolia St. is under construction just a few doors down from its original location. The space, which is expected to open by the end of the year, will have a 5,000-square-foot dining room on the ground floor, and a 2,800-square-foot bar and 2,000-square-foot patio upstairs.
Spartanburg businessman Corry Oakes is renovating the 126-year-old Lundy Building at 141-143 W. Main St. across from Morgan Square. The building will have a mix of apartments on the top floors and Mexcal, an upscale Mexican restaurant, on the ground floor.
Pokenori, a restaurant concept that blends Hawaiian cuisine with sushi, is under construction at 119 N. Church St. beside Growler Haus.
Local chef William Cribb and his business partner Raj Patel are renovating the former Renato’s restaurant building at 221 E. Kennedy St. for a new dining experience named the Kennedy.
Cribb and his partners at Hub City Hospitality Group, which owns and operates Willy Taco locations in Spartanburg and Greenville, are also cooking up their new outdoor beer garden concept FR8 Yard for the vacant lot at 125 E. Main St. The lot is adjacent to the Sparkle City Mini Putt.
Mark Khoury, a native of New York, announced on March 14 that he plans to bring his favorite childhood treat — Abbott’s Frozen Custard — to a space on the ground floor of the Palmetto Building at 100 E. Main St.
The historic Bijou theater building at 145 E. Main St. will soon be fully occupied after signing two new tenants, the Nail Bar and the Black Derby Barber Co. Three other businesses — Archived Clothing, Hub City Scoops, and Downtown Deli & Donuts —opened in the building during the 13 months prior.
Several other downtown projects have been completed during the past year.
In August 2016, Spartanburg restaurateur Fabian Mata opened his contemporary Mexican restaurant Nacho Taco at 129 N. Spring St.
In March, Spartanburg businesswoman Amy Zimmer completed the relocation of Pink on Main — a Lilly Pulitzer Premier Specialty Store from its original location at 156 W. Main St. to a space at 115 W. Main St. beside The Palladian Group.
A year before, local restaurateurs Elaine Hoffman and Denise Mehl opened The Crepe Factory at 137 W. Main St. in the building that housed the former Sandwich Factory. Oakes purchased the building in February 2015 and renovated it. It includes two apartments above the restaurant.
Rothschild, for one, is excited by all the development. “We haven’t seen this level before in terms of scale, but what’s amazing to me is the huge jump in the pace of the investment we’ve seen in downtown,” Rothschild said.
With the Aug. W. Smith and the Montgomery buildings off the market, the attention of developers and city officials could turn to the Kress Building at 115 E. Main St. and the adjacent Montgomery Ward building at 111 E. Main St. Both buildings are next to the future FR8 Yard.
Several other properties have the potential to bring new life to downtown.
In October 2016, former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet purchased the former Abby’s Grille building at 149 W. Main St. and Carolina Gallery at 145 W. Main St. The buildings sit at the gateway to the city’s redesigned Wall Street across from Morgan Square. Barnet has said the buildings have attracted some interest, and he hopes to have them actively involved in the city’s growth.
Rothschild said two properties at the southeast corner of Church and St. John streets that formerly housed the Hammond Brown Jennings building and a jewelry store hold tremendous potential.
On Friday, March 3, Sander Morrison announced that he plans to sell the former Magnolia St. Pub and two adjacent buildings at the intersection of Magnolia Street and Daniel Morgan Avenue about one block from the Spartanburg Marriott.
“People are calling us who would not have returned our phone calls a few years ago,” Rothschild said. “All of the signs are good. We are in a virtuous cycle where development is driving traffic. Traffic is driving even more demand, which is driving more development.”
“The momentum in downtown Spartanburg is exciting, and the success is coming after a decade or two of improving the downtown infrastructure,” said Laura Ringo, executive director of the Spartanburg-based nonprofit Partners for Active Living (PAL). “When I moved here 10 years ago, there were so few storefronts filled in downtown. Now it seems like the growth and energy is exponential, and the retail and dining options increase almost weekly.”
Ringo believes projects like the AC Hotel and Aug. W. Smith and Montgomery buildings will continue to tilt the momentum in downtown’s favor.
“As a resident of Hampton Heights, I love that downtown is an easy walk for my family and provides various arts, culture, dining, retail, active living opportunities throughout the day,” she said. “And in fact, the improvements continue to bring strength to nearby neighborhoods like ours. This seems to be a defining time for our community. We are building on our strengths and partnerships and using those to create a place that is thriving, vibrant, connected, and accessible.”
Rothschild said downtown is an economic engine for the city, county, and region as a whole. He said in addition to the activity generated by people living downtown, he hopes to see it become more of a destination for Spartanburg residents and visitors from outside the county.
$125 million invested in downtown since 2013
West Main Street and Daniel Morgan Ave.
Developers: Johnson Development and OTO Development
Cost: $20 million
187 N. Church St.
Developer: BF Spartanburg
Purchase price: $680,000
Development: $29 million
Aug. W. Smith department store building
174 E. Main St.
Developer: Blue Wall Real Estate
Purchase price: $920,000
Development: $10.5 million
Living, Working, Playing in the Hub
A number of projects are on track to make downtown Spartanburg an attractive option for residential, employment, and recreational needs.
According to the city, there are 420 new residential units in or under development in downtown. The occupancy rate for those apartments is 98 percent.
Apartment buildings such as Magnolia Street Lofts, the Library Commons, City View Apartments, Palmetto Lofts, and several others have continued to attract tenants of all ages to downtown.
In 2014, Georgia-based developer Pace Burt completed a renovation of the old Schuyler Building and opened the 88-unit Church Street Lofts near the intersection of South Church and Henry streets — downtown’s southern gateway.
Spartanburg developer Royce Camp opened his $1 million, three-story multiuse building on Wall Street that year. The building houses several apartments and three businesses: Health in Hand Juice and Smoothie Bar, Hub Diggity, and HenHouse Brunch.
In April 2016, the Hub City Co-op, the state’s first cooperatively owned grocery store, opened at 176 N. Church St. across the street from the University of South Carolina Upstate’s George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics and the Chapman Cultural Center.
Just a few doors down from the Co-op is Hub City Tap House, a new brewpub concept that opened in September 2015.
“In the past year and a half since I came to Spartanburg, I have seen tremendous change, particularly in downtown,” said Naomi Sargent, director of college town and quality of place for the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “The increase in the quality of things to do has been amazing. … The amenities we’re getting are helping us reach the point where you don’t have to drive to Greenville or somewhere else to find places to go.”
Job growth has also been a top priority for the city.
According to the most recent numbers, almost 20,000 jobs exist within a 1.5-mile radius of Morgan Square.
Companies including QS/1, Johnson Development, American Credit Acceptance, Advance America, and Denny’s Corp. have continued to provide jobs for local residents. Several companies have focused their efforts on attracting and retaining young professionals.
“Based on what I’ve seen, there seems to be more young professionals here than ever before,” said Cal Wicker, assistant vice president at BB&T in Spartanburg, treasurer of Spartanburg Young Professionals, and president of the Hub City Hog Fest. “Everyone is working hard to make Spartanburg a great place. … What I love about it is there are no age barriers that keep people from getting involved.”
A $25 million runway extension project at the Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport recently took off.
The project, which will enable the airport to accommodate larger jets and better serve its existing users, is expected to have a significant economic impact on downtown.
It has also created funding for a plan to “daylight” a portion of Butterfly Creek near the Hub City Farmers Market in the city’s Northside community.
Near the heart of downtown, the old Masonic Temple building, which houses the Hub City Bookshop, Little River Coffee Bar, and Cakehead Bakeshop, is a magnet for people from all walks of life.
The city has invested about $2.5 million in streetscaping projects aimed at making downtown more pedestrian- and business-friendly, and more attractive.
“I walk by the Growler Haus on a weekday night and it’s full of people I don’t know, but want to know,” said Martin Huff, real estate manager for Spartanburg-based Johnson Development’s self-storage division and chairman of the United Way of the Piedmont Young Leaders Society. “There is tremendous activity in downtown. People from all over the country are hearing about Spartanburg. We’re developing an identity.”
A variety of projects focused on art, culture, and music have launched in downtown within the past 12 months.
The Children’s Museum of the Upstate plans to open a new facility for children ages 5 and under in a two-story, 6,000-square-foot historic building at 130 Magnolia St.
In November 2016, the Chapman Cultural Center launched the new Spartanburg Downtown Cultural District. The district encompasses much of downtown from Ezell Street behind Main St. Pub, the RJ Rockers Brewery, and Cribb’s Kitchen to Spartanburg Community College’s downtown campus on Kennedy Street, over to Barnet Park, and down to the old Magnolia Cemetery.
“It is wonderful to receive state and national recognition of the sheer quantity and diverse cultural assets that exist in our city,” said Jennifer Evins, president and CEO of Chapman Cultural Center, in a statement in November. “The launch of the Spartanburg Downtown Cultural District allows us to wrap a ribbon around those assets and activities and make them even more accessible not only to our local residents, but also to visitors coming to Spartanburg. This designation allows us to distinguish Spartanburg as a culturally diverse and vibrant downtown.”
In October 2016, the community celebrated the launch of Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light, a public art project funded by a $1 million grant awarded in 2015 by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The project includes nine art displays across the city.
Two of the destinations, including Spartanburg Swing, a light project in the National Beta Club Building off South Spring Street, and Downtown Mobile Suspension, a light project featuring curtains of multicolored panes of glass hanging at Denny’s Plaza, are in downtown.
Another public art project by the Spartanburg Art Museum called Lighten Up Spartanburg is underway. The project includes the installation of 30 6-foot-tall fiberglass light bulb sculptures in the community that have been painted, decorated, or transformed in some way by local and regional artists. Some of the bulbs have already been displayed in downtown.
Barnet Park, a new community garden at 150 S. Church St., the Hub City Farmers Market, Sparkle City Mini Putt, the Spartanburg County Headquarters Library, Richardson Park off South Converse Street, and Hub City Art Park of South Daniel Morgan Avenue are a few other destinations for residents and visitors.
In February, the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, in partnership with the Hub City Writers Project, Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and the city of Spartanburg, launched the updated Spartanburg Music Trail.
The 30-minute tour includes nine stops mostly in downtown that highlight 18 musicians with ties to Spartanburg, as well as music venues and other points of interest tied to the city’s musical heritage.
It includes a mobile-friendly website and is audio-guided by Peter Cooper, a Grammy-nominated artist from Spartanburg.
In January, the community launched its new strategic vision plan One Spartanburg. The plan provides a framework for efforts that seek to boost the cultural and economic prosperity of Spartanburg and to elevate the lives of citizens for decades to come.
One of the targets of the plan is to create a Downtown Partnership, an organization that will focus on making the city’s core more vibrant and prosperous.
A variety of federal, state, and local interests led by the Spartanburg-based nonprofit Partners for Active Living (PAL) are nearing the completion of a comprehensive walking trail system.
The $22 million project seeks to add 21 miles of new trail to an existing network of about 12 miles that encompass the rail trail, the Cottonwood Trail, Glendale Shoals Preserve, Drayton Mills Trail, and Wadsworth Trail. A portion of the new trail system will pass through downtown Spartanburg.
Laura Ringo, executive director for PAL, said the project is continuing to move forward.