A Blueprint for Rocky Mount?

Recently my husband and I spent a weekend in Greenville, South Carolina. It was our anniversary, and we wanted to take an easy trip to somewhere we’d never been. Hearing that Greenville, SC, had a vibrant downtown scene–something that many of us would love to see more of in Rocky Mount–I suggested we go check it out.

Wow! These folks have got it going on. For starters, they’ve developed an area, named Falls Park on the Reedy, around the waterfalls that used to power their old textile mills (sound familiar?).

the falls at reedy

There are lots of trails to walk (note one to the left in the picture above) interspersed with gardens. An impressive pedestrian suspension bridge straddles the river.

Besides walking and taking in the beauty of the falls, visitors might encounter street artists such as this one I photographed sketching portraits near the park’s entrance on the Saturday I was there.

artist

Falls Park on the Reedy is smack-dab downtown Greenville, SC. My husband and I walked there from the Holiday Inn where we were staying. We strolled through block after block of upscale restaurants and shops. The streetscape was wide and inviting and full of people out on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

streetscape

We saw lots of statues, such as the one below, honoring Greenville’s historic Sterling High School, a prominent all-black educational institution in the days of segregation. (Unfortunately, the school burned to the ground in 1967). The school boasts a Who’s Who of former students, including Jesse Jackson, who was the star quarterback there as well as an honors student.

statues

Greenville has restored most of its downtown buildings. Here’s the Old Greenville County Courthouse, a beaux arts building that served the area from 1918 to 1950. Today it houses a bookstore and a candy shop on the ground floor.

old building

The sidewalks don’t roll up when the sun goes down, at least not on weekends.

at night

How did all this happen? Evidently there was once a Greenville citizen named Buck Mickel. A Google search reveals that he was a successful executive of a local construction company, and his “support, encouragement, and cash helped create today’s vital Main Street.” Pretty much what this Reedy Park memorial says.

buck mickel

Do we have a Buck Mickel (or several) in Rocky Mount? Ben Braddock comes to mind. The developer of Station Square in downtown Rocky Mount, he was recently named an N.C. Main Street Champion. The folks from Capitol Broadcasting are also heroes for developing the campus of the old Rocky Mount Mills.  It’s a beginning, but we need others with similar vision (and deep pockets).

The population of Greenville, SC, is roughly 68,000. The population of Rocky Mount, NC, isn’t too far behind at about 54,500. Greenville, SC was once known as the textile capital of the world. Rocky Mount, NC, home of one of the first cotton mills in the state, has an extensive textile history. Greenville has the Reedy River; Rocky Mount has the Tar River. Both have beautiful waterfalls.

It’s a tale of two cities. One has capitalized on a river, its waterfalls, an old downtown once dominated by mills. The other has taken the first steps. It could be wonderful, Rocky Mount. Go to Greenville, South Carolina, to see for yourselves, or at least check out the city’s website detailing how the development happened: https://www.greenvillesc.gov/424/Explore-Downtown

 

*To read more about what I saw in Greenville, SC, and my thoughts about similar development in Rocky Mount, click here for last Sunday’s column (March 17, 2019) in the Rocky Mount Telegram: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2019/03/17/If-Not-Gentrification-What-Is-the-Vision.html

 

 

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