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Grant restrictions quash Town Common debate


The Town Common during Sunday in the Park


Shannon Keith

Friday, February 24, 2017

Restrictions attached to a grant utilized by the city in the 1980s to build the Town Common amphitheater prohibits structures like a large science learning center proposed for the park, the Greenville city’s attorney confirmed Thursday.

City Attorney Dave Holec confirmed via email that the city had discovered the restrictions were part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund grant received for the construction of the amphitheater on the Town Common in 1986. Under the terms of the grant agreement no part of the 25-acre park may be used for purposes other than outdoor recreation without the approval of the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.

The revelation apparently quashes a brewing debate over whether the common should be utilized for structures like a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) center proposed during the Greenville City Council’s annual planning retreat in January.

Tim Elliott, director of the Sidewalk Development project to build a large mixed-use housing complex downtown, broached the discussion of a STEAM center, which was included on the council’s possible “big idea” developments.

Elliot and others suggested such a facility would give the city an iconic drawing card it’s needed for the park, even showing off schematics of a building shaped like a pirate ship dominating the center of the common.

“Greenville is definitely on the rise ... but it is not a destination yet,” said Elliott, whose $32 million residential-commercial complex is underway at Dickinson Avenue and Reade Circle. “The city needs something that will take it to the next level.”

Jim Blount, a local partner in the Sidewalk Development project, said the project could help attract and retain more professionals in Greenville.

“This could be a catalyst project,” Blount said. “Something that could attract further development in the area.”

Even though the STEAM center may not be permitted on the Town Common, District 3 Councilman McLean Godley is requesting that city staff continue to explore ways to develop public-private partnerships in the area.

“There are so many opportunities to unlock the potential of the Tar River,” Godley said. “Even if we are restricted on what we can place on the Town Common, we should look at other areas where this STEAM center could be built.”

The proposal to build the center on the common had prompted an outcry from proponents of green space, including from a political activist group known as New Greenville. The group’s director Uriah Ward said on Thursday he did not support “privatizing public space,” particularly the proposal of a STEAM center on the Town Common.

“This project deviates from the master plan,” Ward said. “It is primarily an indoor space that does not belong in a park. If we give up any of this green space, we will lose it forever.”

However, Ward said that he was in support of building a science and learning center at a different location in the city.

“We hope that, if you continue to pursue this project, that you will look at other locations,” Ward said in a letter sent to City Council members. 

Blount said he hopes the city will consider alternative locations for a possible STEAM center. 

“I hope this project will get consideration from the city,” he said. “The site of the Town Common was selected because of its central location and the potential of constructing something iconic that people entering the city would see. Even if this is something that can’t be built on the Town Common, I think this is something that would benefit Greenville tremendously.”

The Town Common master plan approved by the council also called for the eventual construction of a civic center on the park grounds.

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