If you have lived in Spartanburg for any length of time, you’ve probably heard something about the Northside community and/or the Northside Initiative. In the realm of community revitalization efforts in Spartanburg, and there have been dozens over the past half century or so, it stands alone in terms of its approach and scope.
Now nearly a decade old, the Northside Initiative long ago began to produce tangible results. But the pace of projects and the cumulative impact of the work is quickening. Indeed, 2019-2020 eventually may be looked upon as an especially transformational period in the life of the Northside community.
The number and pace of projects in this 400-acre swath of the city is stunning these days, especially for longtime Northside residents and others who know well the state of disinvestment and overall neglect the community was in just a few short years ago. Drive down Howard Street today, and five significant projects representing approximately $50 million in investment are either underway or have been completed this year.
“In the next 12 to 18 months, there is going to be an awful lot of activity on the Northside,” said Bill Barnet, the former Spartanburg mayor who has led the Northside Initiative since being asked to do so by current Mayor Junie White in 2012. As it has been from the start, the current activity is being driven by a public-private partnership that includes the non-profit Northside Development Group (NDG), a neighborhood leadership group known as the Northside Voyagers, the City of Spartanburg, Spartanburg School District 7, Mary Black Foundation, The Spartanburg County Foundation, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS), Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) and Wofford College.
Increasingly, those organizations and Northside residents are welcoming new partners to the neighborhood. A rising interest in the area on the part of private investors marks an important new chapter in the Northside story.
“Some of what is happening now is just more people having more confidence in the geography,” Barnet said. “They see and understand the Northside’s proximity to the hospital, to VCOM, to Wofford, to downtown.”
Barnet then rattled off a number of the new projects that have either opened recently or are under construction as he painted a picture of what the Northside will soon be: a diverse, attractive urban neighborhood with a mix of housing options and amenities that also happens to be within walking distance of Spartanburg’s thriving and energetic downtown.
Among the notable projects Barnet mentioned:
The Franklin School: This first-of-its-kind early childhood development center next door to the Cleveland Academy of Leadership opened its doors earlier this year. Serving children from birth through 4K, The Franklin School is housed in a state-of-the-art $10 million building that includes seven outdoor play areas. Its teachers benefit from year-round observation, feedback and training through a partnership with USC Upstate’s Early Childhood Education program.
And more could be on the horizon. While due diligence is ongoing, at least two private developers have project proposals that have moved beyond the kicking-the-tires phase. Each would add significant fuel to the Northside’s momentum. Barnet said the key remains to stay true to what has always made the Northside Initiative different: its holistic, people-centered approach to community development.
“I’m more optimistic today than I was three years ago,” Barnet said. “I feel a tension we have to keep people engaged, to keep listening to the neighborhood, to continue to realize the work of community revitalization is about people and not about buildings. You can’t just build a nice house and plop someone in it. You have got to help them understand what a mortgage is and what maintaining a house looks like and where and how to develop themselves and their skills and increase their capacity in every way possible.”
At ALINE, we work hard to live up to our mission of elevating people, brands and communities. When it comes to our home community of Spartanburg, unprecedented growth and development is having a profound effect on our economy and on people’s everyday lives. While this change is producing many positive, tangible benefits, there have been and will continue to be challenges. And keeping up with it all — much less making sense of it — is certainly one of those challenges.
That is the genesis of a new category of content we are going to be creating and sharing with you. We are calling it Eye on Spartanburg and our goal is simple: to help provide context for the trends, developments, events and overall changes. That might not be what you would expect from a typical marketing firm. But we think it’s one of the best things we can do to help not only our clients but our home community. We encourage you not only to join in the conversation, but to help lead it. Start a discussion, ask questions, drop us a tip or suggest a story angle. We promise to follow up. — Drew and Charles