Dream Big Greenville has set a preliminary goal of $10 million in private support to make the $22.6 million Reedy Square a reality, said Patti McAbee, the organization’s new president and chief executive officer.
On the job for two months, she is leading the non-profit organization in its mission to create and promote economic development through regional tourism.
The center is set to occupy a 1.7 acre tract at 301 River St. in downtown Greenville along the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Greenville County Council has committed to $5 million for the project and additional public support is expected.
What is now a black building and empty parking lot, will become home to a state-of-the-art, multi-level structure housing concierge travel services to assist people with navigating the Upstate, an outfitter for transportation such as bike rentals or Segways, a café, and an art component to help promote local artists.
As visitors ascend different levels of the complex, they will experience the city in a new way from the flow of the river to the mountain views. Shaded, grassy areas along the Swamp Rabbit Trail will provide space for relaxation and play.
McAbee, who as resident director for The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center campaign for three years raised more than $11 million in private funds and more than $50 million from the Kroc endowment, said she understands the blank canvas and vision needed to build an organization, and she knows how to raise the money to make it happen.
Dream Big proponents anticipate the project will attract visitors and economic development and connect people to unique experiences while broadening access to some of the local amenities.
“The energy downtown is palpable. Reedy Square is going to influence new audiences for Greenville and move the economic development needle through the next generation of tourism revenue,” said McAbee.
Greenville has lagged behind its peers in tourism revenue, focusing more on the business and industry side of life, but tourism is the No. 1 industry in the state.
It is time to shift focus to the visitor and visitor experience to take the city into the next stage of growth, she said.
Her organization has enlisted Clemson University’s Strom Thurmond Institute for Economic Development to look at the economic impact of tourism in the city and county and the economic impact the project is expected to have on tourism.
She anticipates the results, due in a couple of months, will strengthen the case already made for the development.
Twenty-seven years ago, McAbee founded the McCormick Arts Council at the Ketura, which received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award and the Southern Arts Federation’s Rural Arts Award. She served as the executive director for 13 years and during that time also co-founded the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor.
In 1993 she became the first woman to serve on Clemson’s Board of Trustees.
As vice president for Custom Development Solutions and president of her own consulting firm, McAbee directed capital campaigns and provided counsel for nonprofit organizations throughout the country, raising more than $100 million.
Dream Big grew out of a statewide study conducted by Tourism Development International in 2007, which determined that the Upstate’s Mountain and Piedmont areas had the potential to bolster the same tourism numbers coming from the coastal regions. Greenville officials asked the company to do a more focused study on the Upstate and results determined that tourism could be greatly affected by building an urban center in the downtown area and an Outdoor Adventure Center at the foot of the mountains.
Groundwork was laid for the Tourism Leadership Council, which became Dream Big Greenville, and the organization began planning and generating support for the two projects.
Previous studies indicated that there is a target market of people living within a four hours driving radius of Greenville.
“We know what Falls Park has done for Greenville, based on the whole energy of the park and bridge area and businesses that have sprung up and become successful around that area. That kind of investment yields a strong rate of return,” said McAbee.
A 1 percent increase in hotel occupancy would equate to an annual $29 million in new revenue.
“Greenville is ready for that. It’s a high energy place with a lot of appeal for people who are looking for a place to go on the weekend or a place to take a mini-vacation. Reedy Square will be our front door,” she said. “We believe the iconic nature of this building will be revered over time and it will raise the tide and float many, many new projects,” she said.
Both Reedy Square, and Dream Big Greenville’s second project, Blue Wall Development, were designed by Chicago based architect Jeanne Gang, who recently was named a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship.
The Blue Wall Center will be constructed on what was once Camp Spearhead on Highway 11, property now owned by Naturaland Trust. The organization is working to secure a lease, steward the property and prepare it to come on line when Reedy Square is built and stable.
“I certainly see these as community projects. It’s for Greenville and if visitors enjoy it, then that’s all the better, but it’s another place for us to go and enjoy,” said McAbee.
Fundraising for Reedy Square is expected to take 12 months with the goal of opening Reedy Square within two years.
“I really want to make a difference in Greenville. I want to give my time to something that can make a lasting difference and I feel like I can make a lasting difference with this,” said McAbee.