Development Opportunities in Miami’s Little River Neighborhood

Gentrification door mat (image courtesy of The Onion)
Courtesy of The Onion

Now that I have transitioned to commercial real estate brokerage full time, I’m here to tell (and sell) you on the next great Miami neighborhood to invest in. Miami’s Little River neighborhood has been an up and coming neighborhood in the last several years and this trend is likely to accelerate. My family and I have lived in the area for the past 11 years and we have enjoyed watching the transformation of the surrounding neighborhoods. Notable developers that have invested early in Little River include Vagabond Group (Avra Jain), Urban Atlantic Group (Nick Hamman), MVW Partners (Matthew Vander Werff), and Conway Commercial Real Estate (Thomas Conway).

Miami’s Little River neighborhood is loosely bordered by the Florida East Coast rail road tracks to the east, I-95 to the west, 79th Street to the north, and 62nd Street to the south. The neighborhood takes its name from the Little River that runs along its northern edge. Under Miami 21, Little River has been bestowed with favorable zoning that allows for dense and mixed-use developments to be built, such as T6-8-0, D1, D2, and T-5-O zoning designations.

Satellite map of Miami's Little River neighborhood
Little River, Miami

On the northern edge of the neighborhood lies 79th Street, which has a mixed-use T6-8-O zoning designation that allows for development of up to 8 floors and 150 dwelling units per acre by-right. Most of the buildings around 79th Street tend to be 1 or 2 stories, so almost all of the properties are not being utilized to their highest and best use. With an average daily traffic count of 26,000 vehicles per day, 79th Street is a major commercial street. It’s one of only a few roads that connects the western part of the county to Miami Beach.

Miami’s Little River neighborhood is well located about 6-miles north of downtown Miami. The neighborhood has excellent access to Miami Beach and I-95. The neighborhood sits on higher ground so most of it isn’t in a flood zone. Surrounding demographics are favorable. To the north and east lie the affluent communities of El Portal, Miami Shores, Belle Meade, Bayside, and Morningside.

Flood zone map for Miami's Little River neighborhood
Source: Miami-Dade County

Brightline recently announced that they will likely build a train station between NE 82nd Street and NE 79th Street. Once 79th Street Brightline station becomes a reality, we will likely see developers flocking to the neighborhood. Developers are already looking at the area in anticipation of the Brightline station, so expect activity along 79th Street to pick up even more once the Brightline station is formally announced.

If you’re looking to park a few dollars in a neighborhood with upside potential, look no further. Little River is a neighborhood investors should take note of. The location, surrounding demographics, and favorable zoning (within an opportunity zone as well) shouldn’t be overlooked. If you have a bit of patience and are playing the long game, bet the ranch on Miami’s Little River neighborhood.

Notable Projects
The Citadel
Ebb & Flow

Little River Family Favorites
– La Santa Taqueria (Ebb & Flow)
– Tran An (Ebb & Flow)
– Plantisserie
– Cindy Lou’s Cookies
– B & M Market
– Sherwoods Bistro
– US Burger Service (The Citadel)
– The Shores Fish Market (The Citadel)
– Focused Movement Academy (great family gym)
– Leon’s Garage (best and most honest mechanic in Miami)

Real Estate Spotlight: Grant Killingsworth, Senior VP, CBRE

Grant Killingsworth joined CBRE in January 2015 as First Vice President in the Occupier Services Group in South Florida, where he specializes in representing office tenants in the South Florida market. He brings over 20 years of commercial real estate experience to the industry, with an extensive background working for prestigious landlord and corporate clients.

Prior to his role with CBRE, Mr. Killingsworth spent nearly a decade with Jones Lang LaSalle as part of a team exclusively responsible for marketing and leasing over three million square feet of office space in South Florida, most notably Espirito Santo Plaza, where Grant and I first met in 2003, and 1221 Brickell in Miami’s Central Business District.

Miami is a small town when it comes to real estate and Grant and I have regularly crossed paths over the years. Grant is a solid guy and every time we run into each other we seem to have something interesting to talk about. Grant and I are also of the same mindset and we both believe in the value of building long-term relationships. Grant has uncompromising standards and integrity. He’s one of the good guys in commercial real estate in the 305.

It’s not surprising that over the course of his career, Mr. Killinsgsworth has represented a wide range of local, regional and multinational corporations, nonprofits, and educational institutions.

Mr. Killingsworth has a deep understanding of the lease underwriting process, which has since allowed him to implement unique and creative strategies to drive meaningful cost savings for his tenant clients. He also has significant experience in the office development process, from the design and financial underwriting phase through construction and ultimately lease up. If you’re looking for office space in South Florida, Grant should be the first person you call.

The Office Jedi

A Conversation With Mr. Killingsworth

Stoic Urbanist: What is a regular day for you? Do you have a morning routine?

Mr. Killingsworth: My morning routine has changed since COVID and now I usually get up between 5 and 6 am. I’ll read for 30 minutes and then meditate for a few minutes. I’ll make some coffee and then plow through emails and get myself organized for the day. I like to work out in the morning and am usually at the gym lifting or training at Soul Boxing by 6:45 am. Believe it or not, I’m a former amateur boxer and won the Miami Real Estate Broker Boxing Competition in 2008! I also enjoy a yoga class every once in a while, and riding my bicycle with my boys. I’m 6’7”, 250 lbs. and I like to eat and drink wine, so I end up working out 6 or 7 days a week.

After the gym I help my wife make breakfast and get our kids out the door. The first hour or two of my days I focus on prospecting new business. I always try to prospect first in order to build my pipeline. The rest of my day is then spent on Zoom calls, client meetings, tours, and chasing big opportunities.

My day ends around 6 or 7 pm. Working from home has made me closer with my family. I make dinner every night, and every Thursday night my wife and I have a dinner date and margaritas at the Bal Harbour Shops.

Stoic Urbanist: You earned a BS in Real Estate. What inspired you to follow a career in real estate at such a young age?

Mr. Killingsworth: I initially wanted a degree in business or construction management. I played football in college at West Virginia Wesleyan, but it was too far from home and the food was horrible. My short-lived football career ended after two years and I transferred to Florida State University. FSU didn’t offer a construction management program, but the real estate program looked interesting.

Stoic Urbanist: What was your first job?

Mr. Killingsworth: I was 17 when I got my first job working at Sara’s Pizza Kitchen in North Miami. My favorite job was being a rickshaw runner in Coconut Grove. That job helped pay for college. I met some great friends and got myself into great shape. And I still stay in touch with many of my fellow rickshaw runners.

My first job out of college I worked for Starbucks helping with site selection; it was a paid internship. Shortly thereafter I entered Terranova’s training program and at the time Beth Azor was coaching. I learned a lot from Beth and she helped me develop as a young professional and taught me the basics of commercial real estate.

Stoic Urbanist: What impact has COVID had on the office market?

Mr. Killingsworth: From a national perspective, outside of South Florida, it definitely has had a substantial impact, but it’s not entirely because of the “work from home” component. Historically, most companies have leased more real estate than they really needed, and the reality is that it is usually one of the highest fixed expenses for a company. Companies have come to realize that they are not using space efficiently. Real estate pre-COVID-19 wasn’t a priority, but now business leaders are scrutinizing leases more closely. The business was working for the real estate, but the real estate wasn’t necessarily working for the business.

It seems like business leaders were surprised that their IT systems could handle the overnight demand of their people working remotely. For most organizations, it was a relatively smooth transition and employees were able to remain productive. Now that we’re emerging from COVID, companies will continue to focus on gaining operational efficiency and eliminating unnecessary real estate expenses. We’re having meaningful conversations with tenants about how to better utilize their office needs and create the right environment for their employees to stay engaged and productive at home or in the office.

As far as South Florida goes, things started to open up in late spring 2020. With Florida opening up sooner than most places in the country, many executives from across the US started seeing the benefits of living here from a financial and lifestyle perspective. We’ve seen substantial operations move here and we’re also seeing interest in smaller family offices for executive teams. COVID has benefited the South Florida office market and we think that trend will continue for a significant period of time.

In recent years we’ve averaged 300,000–400,000 sq. ft. of office activity per year in Miami-Dade County. In the last year we’ve seen over 1,000,000 sq. ft. of new to market tenant demand looking to relocate their HQs or create a new operations hub. Of the 1,000,000 sq. ft., the bulk of the demand is coming from financial services, alt-finance (VCs, hedge funds, etc.), and technology. We’re seeing some tech companies doubling or even tripling their existing presence in South Florida.

Some of the notable companies that have relocated to South Florida include:

  • Blackstone (Technology Division)
  • Founds Fund (Peter Thiel)
  • Atomic (Jack Abraham)
  • Microsoft (Regional Hub, Latin America)

Stoic Urbanist: Which office submarkets are the most sought after in South Florida and why?

Mr. Killingsworth: Most companies want to be in a central location near amenities, with good access to minimize their employees’ commute to work. Although we advise clients throughout South Florida, we’re seeing significant tenant demand in Brickell, Downtown Miami, Coconut Grove, and Blue Lagoon/Doral. Most of the recent tenants we represent are either finance or tech companies. We’re also starting to see more interest in Wynwood and Coconut Grove now that CocoWalk has been beautifully renovated. Sixty percent of our business is in Miami-Dade County.

Stoic Urbanist: Which South Florida CRE professionals do you have a lot of respect for and why? Name 2 or 3.

Mr. Killingsworth: My partner, Shay Pope, first and foremost. We’ve known each other for about 20 years and have been working together for 6 years. We started in the business around the same time and we’re close to the same age. While we have completely different personalities, we share a similar commitment to serve our clients, helping them to avoid risks and ensure their real estate project is a success.

Also, there are a lot of talented people in our industry and I believe there is plenty of opportunity. If we all do well, South Florida does well. I want everyone to be successful. I love to compete and win business. However, I respect any broker who’s committed to helping their clients make the right decision to support their long- and short-term business needs. Luckily, there is enough business for everyone.

Stoic Urbanist: What hobbies or interests do you have?

Mr. Killingsworth: I love to spend quality time with my family and try my best to be a good husband and father. We love to travel as a family and my kids have been to more countries than I had been to when I was 40. My wife is from Colombia so we travel to South America often. We love to entertain family and friends at our home. My dirty little secret is that I own six BBQ grills and consider myself a gringo gaucho!

Stoic Urbanist: What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Mr. Killingsworth: I try to read two or three books every month. I recently read The Transparency Sale by Todd Caponi and highly recommend it. I also just finished reading Powerhouse Principles by the Condo King himself, Jorge Pérez. He’s very passionate about our business. Two of my favorite books include Start with Why by Simon Sinek and The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.

Stoic Urbanist: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

Mr. Killingsworth: My wife. You are definitely lucky when you find the right person. She keeps me grounded and on my toes. I respect my wife and I think she makes me a better person.

Spending time with my kids and being present at their sporting events and other interests is something I take very seriously. Childhood is short and we only have a limited amount of time to ensure we’re raising quality people. I like investing my time with my sons.

I also like investing in the stock market.

Stoic Urbanist: What’s something very few people know about you?

Mr. Killingsworth: I was diagnosed with a learning disability and dyslexia in school. I had to work a little harder than others, but I learned to set goals and overcome those challenges. Working hard, but struggling, forced me to become disciplined, and as a result it forced me to hustle.

Recommended Readings: Fall/Winter 2020

Stoic Urbanist recommended articles for Fall/Winter 2020

Below are some of our favorite articles from the last few months which will likely resonate with our readers.

Real Estate

  • Amazon Bets on Office-Based Work with Expansion in Major Cities (WSJ)
  • Lake Tahoe, Vail Aren’t Just for Vacation Anymore as Homebound Families Move In (WSJ)
  • Remote Work Is Reshaping San Francisco, as Tech Workers Flee and Rents Fall (WSJ)
  • Commercial Properties’ Ability to Repay Mortgages Was Overstated, Study Finds (WSJ)
  • Millions Are House-Rich but Cash-Poor. Wall Street Landlords Are Ready. (WSJ)
  • Goodbye, Open Office. Hello, ‘Dynamic Workplace. (WSJ)
  • Booming house prices spell more trouble for the social contract (Economist)
  • The Next Economic Crisis: Empty Retail Space (Politico)
  • Commercial-Property Foreclosures Poised to Rise as Covid-19 Lingers (WSJ)
  • Renters Flock to Suburbia, Upending Decadelong Urbanization Trend (WSJ)
  • Pressure on New York Commercial Real Estate Worries Investors (WSJ)
  • Uber Founder Turns Real-Estate Mogul for Ghost Kitchen Startup (WSJ)
  • Rents Rise on Suburban Homes Amid Race for Space (WSJ)
  • Malls File for Bankruptcy or Shut Their Doors as Pandemic Pain Spreads (WSJ)
  • Mounting Commercial Real Estate Losses Threaten Banks, Recovery (Washington Post)
  • The Forgotten Front Porch Is Making a Comeback (WSJ)

Urbanism & Mobility

  • Coronavirus Accelerates Plans to Put Urban Commuters on Bicycles (WSJ)
  • The Pandemic is Giving E-Bikes a Boost (Economist)
  • Why “Middle Neighborhoods” are the Sweet Spot Between City and the Suburbs (US News)
  • The Recession is About to Slam Cities. Not Just the Blue-State Ones. (NYT)
  • A New York Biker’s Headache: Where to Store It (NYT)
  • Suburbs Can Woo City People By Being More City-Like (Bloomberg)
  • How to Save Cities But I Doubt People Will Listen (The James Altucher Idea List)
  • College Town Economies Suffer as Students Avoid Bars, Football Tailgating (WSJ)
  • City of London’s Socially Distanced Streets May Be Here to Stay (Bloomberg)
  • America’s Main Street Revival Goes Into Reverse, Cutting a Small-Town Lifeline (WSJ)
  • Americans Are Driving Less Than Before Pandemic, and Its Permanent (Bloomberg)
  • As Food Deliveries Boom, So Do Ghost Kitchens (NYT)
  • In a Land of Cul-de-Sacs, the Street Grid Stages a Comeback (Bloomberg)
  • Uber Founder Turns Real-Estate Mogul for Ghost Kitchen Startup (WSJ)
  • Public Transit Agencies Slash Services, Staff as Ridership Dips (WSJ)
  • State, Local Governments Slashed Spending. Next Year Could Be Worse. (WSJ)
  • Bogotá its Building its Future Around Bikes (Bloomberg CityLab)
  • The 15-Minute City-No Cars Required-Is Urban Planning’s New Utopia (Bloomberg Businessweek)
  • How Suburbs Will Change After COVID (Congress for New Urbanism)
  • What Can the Biden Administration Do To Reform Zoning? (City Monitor)


  • Howard Marks Memo: A Time for Thinking (Oaktree Capital Management)
  • Muni Defaults Surge, but Yields Don’t Follow (WSJ)
  • Warren Buffett and the $300,000 Haircut (WSJ)
  • Hedge Funds Head for Florida With Taxes on Rich Rising Elsewhere (Bloomberg)
  • Inflation Is Already Here—For the Stuff You Actually Want to Buy (WSJ)

“The Rona”

  • Retail Landlords Offer Pandemic Clauses in New Leases (WSJ)
  • Covid: Is it time we learned to live with the virus? (BBC)
  • How Pandemic Sparked a European Cycling Revolution (BBC)
  • Teachers Find Higher Pay and Growing Options in Covid Pods (WSJ)
  • Choosing the Suburbs Over City Life During the Pandemic (Washington Post)
  • Not Even a Pandemic Can Break Rich Cities’ Grip on the U.S. Economy (Washington Post)
  • Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht Talks About Life Amid Covid-19 and What’s Next (Commercial Observer)
  • When the Coronavirus Pandemic Settles Down, so Will Homeowners (WSJ)
  • Homebuyers During Covid Say It Takes a Village to Find a House (WSJ)
  • Cities Dealt a Blow as Return to Office Fades (WSJ)


  • What travel will look like after Coronavirus (WSJ)
  • Air travel’s sudden collapse will reshape a trillion-dollar industry (Economist)
  • Airlines Plan for Prolonged Coronavirus Travel Drought (WSJ)


  • Why Being Kind Helps You, Too—Especially Now (WSJ)

Entrepreneurship & Management

  • Why You Should Have (at Least) Two Careers (HBR)
  • What CEOs Really Think About Remote Work (WSJ)
  • The Army Rolls Out a New Weapon: Strategic Napping (NYT)
  • How Airbnb Pulled Back From the Brink (WSJ)
  • Twitter’s Jack Dorsey: A Hands-Off CEO in a Time of Turmoil (WSJ)
  • In the Covid Economy, Laid-Off Employees Become New Entrepreneurs (WSJ)
  • Former Zappos Chief Tony Hsieh Exalted Customer Service, Set High Bar for Rivals (WSJ)

Book Review: Reimagining Greenville: Building the Best Downtown in America

Book cover, Reimagining Greenville by John Boyanoski & Knox White

If you’re an urban planner, elected official, or real estate developer interested in redevelopment at a local level, Reimagining Greenville: Building the Best Downtown in America is the book for you.

Home to 70,000 residents, Greenville is a small city nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western South Carolina that was once known as the textile capital of the United States. In love with the automobile, Americans in the 60’s and 70’ were suddenly driving more than they were walking, and shopping malls began to pop up on the outskirts of cities. Migration to the suburbs followed, and like many downtown districts throughout the country, Greenville became hollowed out and unsafe.

While most American cities turned their backs on their downtowns, Greenville chose a different path. The city’s leadership reimagined their downtown, and for the better part of the past four decades, it has consistently invested in the city’s historic business district. As a result, Greenville was recently recognized as the #6 Best City in the U.S., according to Conde Nast Traveler’s 2020 Readers Choice Awards.

Reimagining Greenville: Building the Best Downtown in America is a case study in urban redevelopment. The small Southern city was not an overnight success story, but it is one of the finest examples of urban reinvention in the United States. This inspiring, short book written by John Boyanoski and Greenville Mayor Knox White takes readers step-by-step along Greenville’s 40 +year journey as they conceived and implemented their long-term vision for Greenville reinvention. Greenville succeeded because it came up with a vision in the 1970’s and stuck with it. Later the city focused on developing it’s natural assets (the Reedy River), invested in a number of game-changing development projects that attracted residents and visitors to downtown and most importantly encouraged mixed-use development. This inspiring book about Greenville makes for a great case study on how to reimagine your city.

An Urbanist’s Oasis in Greenville, SC

Liberty Bridge at Falls Park in Downtown Greenville, SC

In 2018 I found myself in Greenville, South Carolina, for the first time. It was late afternoon and I was in town for a business meeting the following day. Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, surrounded by hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, the city of 70,000 is strategically located approximately two hours from both Charlotte and Atlanta.

After settling into an Airbnb, my colleagues and I decided to walk down to Main Street in downtown Greenville to explore the city and grab a bite to eat. As we walked along the historic tree-lined Main Street, I was surprised to find the area teeming with life. People were out and about on a Wednesday evening, outdoor cafes were full, and there was cuisine from all around the world. As we continued our walk we heard people speaking French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin. It’s something I’d grown used to in my native New York and my adopted hometown of Miami, where I’ve been living for the past 20 years, but South Carolina? This yankee was confused, albeit pleasantly surprised!

Tree-lined streets of downtown Greenville, SC

As we walked on the wide, shaded sidewalks we saw public art on virtually every block. There were construction cranes in the air. New, but thoughtfully designed, mixed-use infill projects could be seen sprouting up throughout downtown. I was perplexed. What was happening in Greenville?

We continued to walk south towards the Reedy River and came upon The Peace Center, where locals were lining up to watch a Broadway play. Just a few steps away the Reedy River Concert Series was in full effect. Hundreds of parents and their children were picnicking while listening to live music.

Intrigued, I went to bed that night determined to see more of Greenville, so the next morning I went for a run on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile multi-use greenway that runs along the Reedy River. Greenville was a mix of the great outdoors and vibrant street life. By the time I left town, I knew there was something special going on in Greenville — and I knew I had to return.

Fast forward to August 2020, with the pandemic in full effect. My family and I decided to take a summer road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and later Greenville, South Carolina. Two years after I first set foot in the city, the south side of Main Street (known as the West End) was nearly unrecognizable. A number of mid-density apartments, condos, and hotels had sprung around the recently built 6,000-seat, minor-league baseball stadium, Fluor Field. New retail establishments and restaurants had also sprouted. Downtown Greenville was growing quickly — in a good way.

The Greenville & Northern Railway
The Greenville and Northern Railway was converted to the Swamp Rabbit Trail in 2010
The Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, SC
Rails to Trails: Swamp Rabbit Trail Source:

How Greenville Did It

After World War II Greenville’s economy grew like most cities, but during the 1960s and 1970s downtown Greenville fell into decline due to suburban migration. Luckily, Greenville had visionary leaders that believed in the city’s downtown. Mayor Max Heller (1971-1979) and Mayor Knox White (1995-current) were instrumental in helping and working with Greenville’s stakeholders to make downtown what it is today. They played the long game, and just recently Greenville was recognized as the #6 Best City in the U.S., according to Conde Nast Traveler’s 2020 Readers Choice Awards.

“Witty and charismatic, Max Heller was begged to run for mayor in 1973. He was so revered that he announced he would not seek a second term as mayor in 1975 unless business leaders did something about downtown’s decay.”

Reimagining Greenville

Austrian-born Max Heller moved to Greenville in 1938 to work for the Piedmont Shirt Company. The cotton mill industry was booming at the time, and Greenville had become the “Textile Capital of the World.” Heller worked his way up, eventually becoming vice president and general manager. He was asked to run for mayor in 1973, but he refused to seek a second term unless the business community supported and matched federal funding for the redevelopment of downtown. Soon after, the city received one of the first Urban Development Action grants ($7.4 million) and revenue sharing funds ($1.5 million).

Downtown business leaders respected and listened to Heller, and one of the first things he did was contract urban designer Lawerence Halprin, whose master plan called for widening sidewalks, minimizing driving lanes, and planting more trees. Suburban migration had resulted in an increase in crime downtown, and there were few businesses operating on Main Street. Halprin believed that planting shade trees and expanding sidewalks would be the first step in encouraging people to walk safely through downtown, which would in turn give business leaders the confidence to operate downtown.

“Cars are what drove customers, not sidewalks for people who never showed up. They clung to the hope that downtown would right itself on its own. But the major business leaders believed in Heller and, more importantly, supported him.”

Reimagining Greenville

By the time Heller passed the mayoral baton to Greenville native Knox White in 1995, a vision for the city had been cemented, and both men were determined to bring it to life.

“A vision was created that called for a different kind of downtown, one that Greenville and most of the nation had never seen before. A downtown where public art was key. Where housing was needed and promoted. Where anchors and building blocks were designed to draw people in and then lead them to the rest of downtown’s charms. Where retail shops were put on priority lists and underlined in red ink.”

Reimagining Greenville

How to Redevelop a Downtown Properly

One of the first large real estate development projects that reversed the blight of downtown was Greenville Commons, which opened its doors in 1982 right on Main Street. Surrounding the Hyatt Regency hotel, it included a five-story office building, a convention center, and a huge parking garage. Greenville Commons was significant because it was the start of public-private partnerships and it laid the groundwork for how the city would do business in the future. However, it would be years before Greenville would become known as the South’s best-kept secret. The Hyatt Regency lost money for 12 years. Success didn’t happen overnight, but there were 4 major projects during a ten-year span that helped change downtown Greenville’s character forever:

The Peace Center for Performing Arts

Peace Center for Performing Arts in Greenville, SC

Greenville’s leadership wisely placed the Peace Center for Performing Arts on the banks of the Reedy River, just above Reedy Falls and on the southern, less developed end of Main Street. Opened in 1990, the center connected South Main Street and the Reedy River to the more developed north end of Main Street.

The funds to develop a large-scale performing arts center came from a unique private-public partnership that became a bedrock of Greenville’s redevelopment efforts. Greenville’s Peace family kicked off the fundraising efforts with a $10 million no-strings-attached donation. In 1989, a local arts advocate named Dorothy Hipp Gunter donated a Steinway Piano and $3 million to a 400-seat theater that now bears her name. Greenville’s school children raised funds to purchase a second Steinway piano. The city contributed an additional $6.4 million, the county $1.25 million, and the state $6 million. An astonishing 70 percent of the $42 million raised to build the Peace Center came from the private sector.

When the Peace Center for the Performing Arts opened, Alan Etheridge, executive director of the Metropolitan Arts Council, called it “one of Greenville’s biggest assets.” In addition to Broadway shows and plays, it’s home to the South Carolina Children’s Theater, the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, the Carolina Ballet and more. As Etheridge said, “Just look at what that facility has done for the community.”

The Redevelopment of the Historic Poinsett Hotel

The Historic Poinsett Hotel in Greenville, SC

Built in 1925, the twelve-story landmark hotel in downtown Greenville was one of the city’s first “skyscrapers.” Designed by New York City architect William Lee Soddart in the Beaux-Arts style, the hotel was developed in an era when small Southern cities demanded quality hotels to attract business travelers. In fact, the hotel in part was conceived to accommodate the biennial Southern Textile Exhibit, which attracted hundreds of attendees. The $1.5 million hotel was not an immediate success and lost money for the first five years. It managed to make it through the Great Depression and in 1946 was named the best medium-sized hotel in the nation.

By the time automobile ownership increased during the 1950s, downtown hotels began losing business to motels located near highways rather than in city centers. In 1959 the Poinsett was sold, but the new owners were unable to bring the hotel back to profitability and it eventually fell into such disrepair that the city closed it down in 1987. During the next 10 years the hotel was continually vandalized. Two fires were set to it. The Poinsett quickly became one of the most endangered historic structures in South Carolina.

Ten years later hotel developers picked it up and with the help of $4 million in tax dollars and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits awarded as part of an almost $20 restoration, the Westin Poinsett reopened its doors in October of 2000. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Construction of River Falls Park

Falls Park on the Reedy River in Greenville, SC

With so many textile factories sprouting up along the Reedy River in the early twentieth century, locals started to refer to it as Rainbow Reedy due to the dyes used. The river looked bad and smelled worse. By the time city and state leaders erected a four lane bridge across the Reedy River Falls in 1960, the river itself was all but forgotten.

Textile factories on the Reedy River

Then in the late 1960s the Greenville chapter of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club began weeding, gardening, and maintaining the area near the falls and below the bridge. Harriett Wyche, the president of the organization, called it “an oasis in the heart of the city” and referred to the bridge as the “concrete monster.”

With the help of the city, the Carolina Foothills Garden Club acquired roughly six acres of land around the falls from Furman College and several private landowners, and the Reedy River Falls Project was born.

“I was always drawn to the falls because of the history of the place. When I became mayor, it was the first place I would take visitors from out of town. You had to drive down to the river by a back alley and then go under the concrete bridge. I was impressed by their reaction, which was always strong. They would say, “Why in the world is this bridge here?” That confirmed for me that we had something special, though it was hidden away.”

Mayor Knox White

The Falls were located in what was known as downtown’s “West End” but was really just the southern end of Main Street. Back then this old warehouse district was seedy and blighted, and with the exception of the Greenville Army Store, no one dared to stop or linger. In an attempt to clean up the West End during the 1980s, many historic buildings were demolished and the area became a field of vacant lots.

With a shared belief that Falls Park could become the centerpiece of Greenville, Wyche and Mayor White teamed up to bring the area back to life. At the time the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) owned the bridge. Elizabeth Mabry, the head of SCDOT, was active in a Columbia-area garden club. With that in common, Wyche reached out to Mabry and invited her to see the Reedy River Falls Project for herself. The idea proposed was that SCDOT would give the bridge back to the city with the understanding that the city would demolish it and redevelop the area under the bridge. According to White, “As soon as she saw it, Mabry became our biggest ally.”

Finally in February 2002 the city council voted to demolish the bridge and create a twenty-five acre park despite concerns over traffic. Once unveiled, the transformation of the Reedy River from a glorified sewer to Greenville’s masterpiece drew people from the north end of Main Street and served as the spark for the redevelopment for Greenville’s West End.

Fluor Field: Greenville’s Downtown Baseball Stadium

Fluor Baseball Field in downtown Greenville, SC
Five hundred thousand bricks were reused for the stadium’s facade from abandoned mills as well as the city’s original fire station. Credit: Mike Harding:

Greenville had a great history with professional baseball for almost seventy years before a Texas Rangers affiliate left in 1972 and the city’s Meadowbrook Field burned. In 1984 business leaders were able to reel in the Braves’ AA affiliate, but the team left in 2004 because the city would not meet the team financial demands for a new baseball stadium downtown.

When dozens of other teams began courting the city, Mayor White insisted that a new stadium downtown would include a strong mixed use component in keeping with the larger vision for downtown. Soon a Class-A Boston Red Rox affiliate called the Drive began calling Greenville home.

The team proposed building a six-thousand seat stadium near a private, mixed-use development on a city-owned nine-acre site in Greenville’s West End. The city provided the land, and since the Drive agreed to pay for the entire construction of the baseball stadium, monies that had been allocated by the city for the construction of the stadium were then used instead to invest in the emerging West End’s infrastructure.

Fluor Field opened on April 6, 2006 to a sold-out crowd. The team drew 330,000 fans during the first year, smashing the Braves’ previous record. Since then the stadium has become an anchor for the community. Bicycle road races begin and end at Fluor Field. College baseball games are played and other events are held there throughout the year as well. It’s become a beacon for the city, and a way to draw the community together. Today thIs once blighted area of downtown is teeming with apartment, retail and hotel construction.

“The saga of the baseball stadium was the longest and most controversial project the city had undertaken. There were enormous financial hurdles, lawsuits and little public support for the longest time for a baseball stadium downtown. But there was one constant- city council members who shared a conviction that downtown is where it belonged, and that made all the difference.”

Mayor Knox White

Mixed-Use Development

It’s also important to recognize that one of the main reasons downtown Greenville has succeeded, while many other downtowns languish, is the city’s commitment to encouraging the development of mixed-use projects in downtown Greenville. All of the projects stated above played an important role in Greenville’s transformation, however if it weren’t for the critical mass of mixed-use housing that the city incentivized developers to build, Greenville would not be experiencing the success it sees today. Without people living downtown and supporting the ground level retail and local businesses, Greenville’s downtown would probably look like many neglected downtowns throughout the country that never recovered from the suburban flight of the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.

Building a Local Economy

Greenville, SC road map
Google Maps

While Greenville’s economy was initially centered on textile manufacturing, favorable tax benefits have lured foreign companies to invest heavily in the area in recent decades. As a result, the region is home to the North American headquarters of Michelin, AVX Corporation, NCEES, Ameco, Southern Tide, Confluence Outdoor, Concentrix, JTEKT, Cleva North America, Hubbell Lighting, , Greenville Health System, and Scansource.

In 1992 BMW opened a manufacturing plant employing nearly 11,000 people in neighboring Greer. Ten years or so later, the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) was created, establishing CU-ICAR as the model for automotive research. The Center for Emerging Technologies in Mobility and Energy opened in 2011, hosting a number of companies in research and development and becoming the headquarters for Sage Automotive.

When Greenville’s Donaldson Air Force Base closed, the land became the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, home to a Lockheed Martin aircraft and logistics center, as well as facilities operated by 3M and Honeywell. General Electric also has gas turbine, aviation, and wind energy manufacturing operations in Greenville, and the city’s Donaldson Center Airport now occupies part of the former air base.

Transportation helps drive Greenville’s economic engine. Located on the Interstate 85 corridor approximately halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte, the city is served by a beautifully renovated international airport, Greenville- Spartanburg, a private aviation airport and an Amtrak station.

Greenville’s Future & Commercial Real Estate Development

Falls Park on the Reedy in downtown Greenville, SC

Admittedly I haven’t spent much time in Greenville, but the little I’ve seen of the city has left a remarkable impression on me. There’s a lot to love about Greenville and it’s outdoorsy residents seem to enjoy a high quality of life. Its downtown is a place where people can live, work, and play because the city encouraged developers to build thoughtfully designed mixed-use projects from the very beginning.

Greenville stands to benefit from the macro-migration patterns in the Sun Belt states. There seems to be a young, entrepreneurial population that has moved to Greenville in recent years in search of a smaller city, better schools, and higher quality of life. I expect this trend to continue if Greenville’s future leaders and residents continue to reimagine how they can make Greenville more livable while attracting new businesses. This is a unique city that did things differently than other cities by investing in their downtown and should be used as an example for other cities. Greenville has what it takes to keep getting better and its redevelopment story seems to still be in the early innings.

Given the city’s commitment to sticking with their development plan to truly build a livable city where people can live, work and play it seems fair to reason that Greenville will likely see continued growth. Downtown Greenville has plenty of developable land still available and the city is in the midst of building a sixty acre park just west of downtown. Needless to say, Unity Park will likely become another catalyst to spur more development in Greenville and this will bring even more commercial real estate development opportunities to the city.

Future Unity Park site in Greenville, SC
Rendering of Unity Park

My wife and I have discussed the possibility of moving to Greenville in the not-so-distant future, but in the meantime, let’s not let the cat out of the bag. Please do not share this article until after we buy a home in Greenville. We don’t need more people moving there and driving up housing prices! Let’s keep Greenville our secret for now…