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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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New City Hall not what you might think
Jonathan Pait
December 5, 2003

Upon reading the article in the Greenville News regarding Mayor Knox White’s announcement of a possible new "old" City Hall, I contacted the Mayor with my concern that there is a perception that the city is more "downtown first" as opposed to "neighborhood first" (the platform on which he initially ran). Hs response was a good one and I thought it would help to post it here.
Thanks for your note. Do let me clarify the City Hall concept, since the newspaper did not get it quite right. I did not advocate building a new City Hall. The present City Hall remains the City Hall. Just as we sold surplus property behind City Hall for a new residential development, we are in a position to sell surplus property NEXT to City Hall, the plaza space that is under utilized and visually unattractive today.

We would make the space available and invite proposals for a mixed-use development. We would attach two conditions to buying the property: that some square footage be available for a council chamber (small square footage out of the 1.3 acres) and that the facade facing Main Street must resemble the old historic City Hall.

And I never said we could pull this off in 4 years! Who knows? But when and if we do, the surplus city hall property would go on the tax rolls and benefit all of us.

As to our neighborhood initiatives, they are now a huge part of our budget and what we still spend most of our time and effort doing on a day-to-day basis, but they seldom get the press attention that downtown gets. That is a fact of life I have tried to push against, but it is a fact.

Before we launched comprehensive plans to revive four key low income areas, we put in place the first ever sidewalk construction program, traffic calming (and you know how big and even complicated that was), a renovation program for ALL smaller neighborhood parks, such as Timmons and White Oak, and

lots of other quiet but effective programs and improvements (fixing the leaf and trash pick up system was a big accomplishment). And we are still at it . . . but it is all a matter of playing "catch up" after years of neglect.

The sidewalk program is a good example. The city simply did not build sidewalks until four years ago . . . now we are spending millions every year building and renovating as aggressively as we possibly can, hiring new crews and trying all kinds of innovative approaches. We used a citizen committee to set the policy guidelines to keep politics out of it. And we are trudging along. It does not make the newspaper.

As imperfect as these initiatives may be, they have helped attract record reinvestment in the city's housing stock. New home renovations in the city and new home construction has soared. We have also painstakingly identified "opportunities" for new home locations to local homebuilders and they are responding favorably. Buist Avenue and other areas in the North Main neighborhood come to mind.

Another thing that we are doing quietly but effectively is identifying potential new home sites. Quiet but persistent encouragement is part of the initiative, too. This is why new home residential projects are underway on Buist Avenue, Summit Drive, and Pelham Road/Villa Road to name just three examples. I literally take homebuilders to sites we have identified and encourage them to consider building or renovating in the city instead of doing the easier work in the suburbs.

I appreciate your honest feeling about where you think our priorities are. I do need to be reminded that the newspaper's attention to downtown can give people a false impression . . . our operating and capital budget is largely about neighborhood redevelopment. I am very proud of the new emphasis, but who reads the budget?

Thanks for the appraisal . . . and watch to see if we entice some developers to rebuild the old City Hall facade.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor.  If only we could have ways to hear this type of explanation on a regular basis . . .

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Jonathan - After 2 years on my own City Council, I can sympathize with your local mayor's concerns over his misrepresentation in the press. I have discovered that most reporters, while finely educated in the art of Journalism, have little or no conception of the realities of bread-and-butter financing, much less the concepts of ordinancing requirements handed down to us by the State or Federal governments. . . .

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