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BYH, some see the glass as half empty. I say just get a smaller glass and quit complaining....

Urban planner: Take advantage of river

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Shannon Keith

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Urban planner Dan Douglas said one of the keys to developing Greenville’s downtown district is utilizing areas along the Tar River.

“There are cities that would kill to have a river running through its downtown,” Douglas said. “You have to take advantage of the river. It’s your jewel. ... Polish it.”

Douglas, who has planned developments in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Concord, Wrightsville Beach, Kannapolis, Long Beach, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska, was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s State of the District event at The Martinsborough inside the Jefferson Blount-Harvey Building.

The third annual State of the District event was a chance for the Uptown Greenville development organization to highlight 2016 successes and preview growth to more than 200 city and community leaders, business owners and developers, and others.

“It truly is an exciting time to be Uptown,” Bianca Shoneman, director of Uptown Greenville, said. “There currently is more than a half a billion dollars in public and private investment in our center city district. ... This is one of the most important transformations in Greenville’s history.”

Shoneman said there will be a significant increase in the number of residents living in the 10-block-by-6-block district by the end of the decade.

“Right now there are 1,100 people living in the Uptown district,” she said. “By 2019, that number will be about 2,500.”

Shoneman said that in 2016, almost 300 full- or part-time jobs were created in the downtown area, and more than 500 jobs have been created in the district in the past few years.

“Those are huge numbers,” she said.

Property values in the downtown district also have “substantially” increased during the past few years, Shoneman said.

“Property values used to be about $687,000 per acre in the Uptown district,” she said. “That has risen to $6.7 million per acre. ... That’s a huge increase.”

Douglas said that Greenville is in the center of one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States.

“From here to Birmingham, Alabama, along I-85 and I-40 is one of the fastest-growing areas economically,” he said. “The economy of this region is about $1.4 trillion a year.

“Think about that,” Douglas said. “The economy of just that region is bigger than the economy of Russia.”

Douglas said that Greenville also is recognized as the economic, health care and educational hub of eastern North Carolina, thanks to the presence of East Carolina University, the Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Medical Center.

“A lot of cities would kill to have a university like the one you have here,” Douglas said. “And you are one of the biggest metro areas of this region. ... Greenville is in a position to experience tremendous growth in the next few decades.”

Douglas said that developing tourism opportunities will play a significant role in developing Greenville’s downtown.

“Music will always draw people,” he said. “Finding a venue for holding music events is important ... and you must take advantage of the river.”

Douglas said he does not think Greenville has taken advantage of development opportunities along the Tar River.

“I was down at the Town Common today and was surprised that I didn’t see people kayaking or tubing on the river,” Douglas said. “I’ve been coming to Greenville for a couple of years, and other that the new playground, not much else has changed. ... You have to change that.”

Douglas added that two other important factors in downtown development is walkability and the availability of affordable housing in the area.

“On a scale of one to 10, I would say walkability ranks about a 15,” Douglas said. “If streets aren’t pedestrian-friendly, you won’t get anywhere.

“And I would advise that you build affordable housing now while you can,” he said. “The property values are going up, and you need to build housing that people can afford now if you want to draw people to this area.”

Douglas said the downtown district also needs to provide more jobs if residents are going to relocate to that area.

“Usually, a downtown area attracts young professionals or couples with no children,” Douglas said. “Usually, what draws them to that area is that one of them has a job there. ... Providing jobs is key to developing a city’s downtown.”

Contact Shannon Keith at skeith@reflector.com or at 252-329-9579.

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