Greenville to Recruit More Office Users for CBD


A trifecta needed to move downtown forward

April 22, 2008

By Lydia Dishman – SCBIZ

The Downtown Owners Group and the Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce are already on board. But they need a third to make an economic growth strategy happen in the Central Business District. They want the City of Greenville to join them.

At a city council work session on Monday, Carroll Gray, CCE of Design Strategies presented an aggressive proposal to recruit more offices and headquarters to downtown Greenville. “We believe downtown is the heart, the economic core of greater Greenville and the entire region,” asserted Ben Haskew, president and CEO of the Chamber. “It is critical to market downtown. It has not been happening outside the region,” he said.

Gray acknowledged that Greenville had done a good job of recruiting textile and industrial businesses in the past but is lacking white collar jobs that could drive city revenues. Currently, Class A office space vacancy is at 7% while Class B is at 20%. Higher vacancies are projected for 2009.

Though restaurants and retail are thriving, a representative of the Downtown Owner’s Group, Doug Harper, president of Harper Corporation-General Contractors, cited South Financial Group/Carolina First and other companies that have left the Main Street environs for other offices in the city and county as a growing concern.

To counteract such a potential downturn, Gray recommended that a position be created for this recruiting and retention initiative. The proposed director would report to a program executive committee consisting of a representative of the Downtown Owners Group, the Chamber of Commerce, and Jim Bourey, the city manager.

The proposed director would “serve as a key advocate for downtown and assist coordination of all recruitment efforts,” should a business be interested in locating in another part of the city or county, explained Gray.

Haskew said that the Chamber would provide a third of the proposed budget that was estimated at $315,000 to $350,000 per year for personnel, office space and administration. Harper said the Downtown Owners Group was also committed for one third of the total cost. Each said they would dedicate resources and funds for three years.

Bourey recommended the council “look at a three year commitment as a TIF expenditure.” Bourey said it should be put into the budget for the next fiscal year subject to available funds.

Council members expressed concern for creating protocols that would ensure open communication between the organizations, to define specific goals for how much business to recruit per year, and for a commitment to diversity among those businesses.

With proper marketing, Greenville’s affordability, variety of housing, creative space and a vibrant arts and cultural environment would just be, “a match-making challenge,” according to Gray.

Even the public transportation is getting a firm push in the right direction. Fueled by heated debates, the city recently took over the troubled bus system, now renamed Greenlink. As part of a holistic improvement plan, Bourey introduced Kim Cosby as the new transit manager.

Cosby brings 24 years of leadership and management experience in transit and currently serves as the City’s Parking Services administrator. In a move Bourey described as “revenue and personnel neutral,” Cosby will continue her previous duties in addition to transit operations and the implementation of measures to improve service and save money over the long term.

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