Five years ago, in the depths of the recession, Spartanburg leaders began raising funds for a radical revitalization plan.
So began the Northside Initiative, an ambitious vision to transform a 400-acre crime-ridden food desert into a vibrant, sustainable, opportunity-rich swath of Spartanburg.
Once a vibrant population hub, the area slipped into a crime-ridden pattern of decline.
The catalyst was a new branch location for the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, which started classes in 2011 on the old Spartan Mill site and represented a welcome shot of energy and investment Spartanburg leaders say they couldn’t pass up. Five years of redevelopments later – including a food hub with job training, housing builds for a model block on Brawley Street and near-completion for a recreation center – violent crime has fallen 81 percent since 2011, according to leaders.
“Part of this transformation is that the Northside is safe, that crime is reducing as a result of what we’re dong here,” says Tammie Hoy Hawkins, president of Northside Development Corp., which spearheaded the project along with the City of Spartanburg and the Spartanburg Housing Authority. “The neighborhood did come upon hard times with the mill closure and then the recession, but the public private partnerships that have come together are really transforming that.”
The Northside Initiative has led to Harvest Park, which is home to the Hub City Farmer’s Market, The Butterfly Foundation, the Monarch Café & Fresh Food Store and an urban garden. Other projects underway include the state-of-the-art T.K. Gregg Recreation Center funded by a $6 million city commitment; an early childhood education center; the teardown and redevelopment of the decaying Oakview Apartments; and the second phase of the Brawley Street Model Block. Hoy Hawkins is in the process of relocating and providing case management for Oakview residents, and hopes to finish the two- and three-bedroom market rate and affordable model block by the end of the year.
“The Northside Initiative is the most comprehensive community redevelopment project in this city’s history, and I would venture that it’s the most comprehensive redevelopment project that’s ever happened in South Carolina,” said City of Spartanburg representative Will Rothschild. “It’s focused almost entirely on housing, and that’s a huge thing.”
VIEW // Northside Initiative’s vision to transform a neglected area of Spartanburg into a dynamic place to live >>
These projects fit into Northside’s 400-page redevelopment road map, completed late 2014 and funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods Program. The master plan included input from all the major public and private players in the Spartanburg area, including existing Northside community members, said Hoy Hawkins. The buy-in has made all the difference, she says.
“In many cases, cities come in, say, ‘We’re going to transform this neighborhood. Here’s how we’re going to do it. Here’s the resources we have,’” she said. “The Northside has been quite a bit different in that it’s been very grass-roots, taking time and being very transparent to create a transformation plan with everyone’s voice.”
Though the search for more partners and additional public and private funding is always ongoing, 2016 will be a year for nailing down ongoing projects and cataloguing further results.
“I think five years from now, this area will be a dynamic place to live, a safe place,” said former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet. “All the things that you either today or someday will want for your family, we’re trying to create.”