A community’s proud past offers hope for its future

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Students from A.J. Whittenberg Elementary look over ideas for a new park in the Southernside area before creating their own at the Open Studio at Tabernacle Baptist Church. Students from A.J. Whittenberg Elementary look over ideas for a new park in the Southernside area before creating their own at the Open Studio at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Proposed Southernside master plan for community includes park, town center and affordable housing

Southernside's past offers hope for its future.

Nestled just blocks west of Greenville's bustling Main Street and rich with history, the neighborhood was named for its proximity to the Southern Railway station.

At the railroad's peak, Southernside was filled with a diverse population, from railroad employees to professionals of all types, blacks and whites. But then the railroad faded and so did downtown. The malls opened and businesses followed. Jobs left Southernside. Poverty and drugs moved in. A neighborhood once known for its vibrancy, diversity and pride became known for dilapidated rental properties, unemployment and crime.

But a rejuvenation is well underway, said Mary Duckett, a resident of Southernside for nearly 60 years and president of its neighborhood association, Southernside Neighborhoods in Action.

"I remember in the Bible, there was a passage that asked if any good could come out of Nazareth," Duckett said. "They used to say the same thing about Southernside, that nothing good came out of here, but we know Southernside's rich history and the potential that is here."

Greenville City Council is expected to consider approval of a master plan for the neighborhood later this month.

"The Southernside neighborhood presents a unique redevelopment opportunity for a dynamic mixed-use community in Greenville," the introduction to the plan says.

The master plan will be used as a blueprint for development in Southernside, which is one of 13 special emphasis neighborhoods in the city – so designated because they have higher concentrations of low-to-moderate income households, with more than 51 percent of the households earning less than 80 percent of the area's median income. According to the master plan, only 32 percent of Southernside residents are working.

New stylish two-story townhomes have been built. Dilapidated houses have been bulldozed and replaced by nice single-family homes. New people – homeowners – are moving in.

"Gentrification has occurred," Duckett said. The plus side is that concerned homeowners are moving into the neighborhood; the minus side is that some residents fear that some of their longtime neighbors might eventually find themselves priced out.

"It's all affordable housing if you've got the money to pay for it," she said. "In order to make Southernside a productive, safe, healthy neighborhood, we've got to have income. We can't keep it at the poverty line. But we're forgetting the residents who live here. They can't afford $1,000 a month. What they call affordable housing is not affordable for the people who have been living here all their lives."

The master plan emphasizes the development of commercial and mixed-use areas while enhancing the neighborhood character and value.

The plan calls for commercial redevelopment along West Washington Street and Pete Hollis Boulevard, including a neighborhood grocery store on Pete Hollis on the city bus route and small local businesses, restaurants and offices, some with residential on the top floors. A town center is envisioned for the corner of West Washington and Mulberry streets, primarily comprised of two- and three-story buildings with residential and neighborhood-oriented retail and smaller employers.

The plan also calls for improved connections to the Swamp Rabbit Trail and improved transportation options that would allow residents to walk, bike or ride the bus to work.

Planners also want to develop a park on the land where the city's public works facility now sits, some 17 acres, most of which is in the floodplain of the Reedy River.

Some residents say that is the most important part of the plan right now, and have been telling the city so at public design charettes over the past week.

City officials agree, saying such a green space could spark the same kind of public-private projects that turned the West End into one of the city's most vibrant places.

On top of residents' dream lists were community gardens, an adult-friendly playground, a baseball field and other green space, said Tee Coker, a planner with the Greenville firm Arnett Muldrow.

Other items on the list include a dog park, a skate park, a boulder wall and mounds kids could play on.

On Thursday, three plans based on the community feedback will be unveiled.

Coker said the park actually constructed would most likely be a blending of some facets of two or all three of the plans.

"The park is so important to Southernside," Duckett said. "We've been without proper recreation on this side of town for as long as I can remember."

Duckett said the city needs to find the money to move the public works facility and to build the park.

"They found the money for ICAR and all their other projects," she said. "But this park seems to be stagnated. They need to get the money from wherever. It's that important to Southernside and the city in general."