APRIL 24, 2011 12:00 p.m. (0)
The plan was met with skepticism.
That’s because the Reedy River hadn’t become a destination in the heart of downtown. The Liberty Bridge hadn’t been built. Falls Park didn’t exist. The residential campus of the South Carolina Governor’s School didn’t sit atop the hill along the riverbank.
“It was like the backyard of the city,” said Mayor Knox White.
Greenville is moving ahead with plans to move up river and turn about 150 acres into a park city officials said could be as transformative to west Greenville as Falls Park was to the West End.
“This is a project that’s just meant to be,” White said. “The awareness of the area has dramatically changed over the past several years.”
The Kroc Center, a downtown community center under construction by the Salvation Army and six years in the making, takes up about one-third of the land the Sasaki Group proposed for a park.
Officially known as The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, it is about 85 percent complete, said Quenton Tompkins, the facility’s executive director.
An Aug. 15 opening is planned.
The site also contains A.J. Whittenberg Elementary, the state’s first elementary school with an engineering focus that opened in August.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 13-mile biking and walking rail built on an old railroad bed from Greenville to Travelers Rest, also runs through the planned park.
“We already have the building blocks in place,” White said.
The land forms a natural bowl.
Most of the park would be green space because it is in the flood plain, although softball fields and perhaps an amphitheater could be constructed. A skate park has also been talked about.
The city is discussing buying property along the park’s edges.
But the city’s top priority, according to White, is to move its public works facility from Hudson Street.
White said he hopes to buy property and complete the move by 2012.
“Frankly, by moving that, we’ve done the park,” he said.
The city owns about 70 percent of the 150 or so acres needed.
“We can build around the private property,” White said. “Although long term, it’d be good to purchase them.”
The park, which has not yet been named or had final plans drawn, would be similar in size to Piedmont Park in Atlanta.
White said city officials are talking with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about relocating parts of the Reedy River to its natural location. The railroad straightened out the river in the 1930s.
The park could be the city’s first “green” park, White said. Just like buildings have sustainability standards, so do park facilities, he said, from using more native plant materials to using fewer pesticides.
“It could give the park its own identity,” he said. “It would make it different from Cleveland Park and Falls Park.”
What won’t be different, he said, is the economic development potential.
“This is the next big opportunity for the city,” he said. “It is one of most authentic spots of Greenville. It’s under developed and has huge potential.”
He said the edges of the park, outside of the flood plain, would be ideal for development.
White said he’d like the city to consider adopting “green” standards for housing or business development along the edges of the park.
White said he expects the project to move quickly over the next five to 10 years.At the Kroc Center, a synthetic soccer field is complete and some of the facilities’ 16 tennis courts have been laid.
The first floor of the tennis house is also done, Tompkins said. The facility has already booked a United States Tennis Association tournament in September, he said.
The facility plans to have Cardio Tennis, a fitness training and exercise program featured on a recent episode of the television show, “The Biggest Loser.”
The Kroc Center, which will sell memberships and offer scholarships to low-income families, features a six-lane indoor pool with a slide that winds its way in and out of the building. A 300-seat performing arts center will also be used as a worship center, Tompkins said. The facility also includes a community center and a Boys and Girls Club.
Greenville had to raise $15 million for its share of the facility. The Salvation Army’s total investment in the project is $58 million.
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