Traffic-packed but underused, Greenville gateway gets a fresh vision

Plans to transform the district where Interstate 385 feeds into the east side of Greenville’s downtown have come into sharper focus over the past few months and will be presented to city officials next week.
Juan Mullerat, whose team at Miami-based urban planning firm Plusurbia is creating the road map for future development of the area, said the corridor along East North Street is surprisingly under utilized despite being one of Greenville’s most-trafficked arteries.
Robert and Jennifer Donovan, whose marketing company DOM360 sits in the socalled gateway district, enlisted Plusurbia to carry out the study of the area and develop the plan that will soon go to the city. Robert Donovan said he is hopeful the framework will create a path for the district to become a more dynamic, integrated part of Greenville.
Plusurbia targeted four areas in the district to improve: the East North Street corridor, the Pettigru Historic District, the area surrounding the Bon Secours Wellness Center, and the Greenville County Law Enforcement Center.

East North Street

Mullerat said the plan his team produced envisions East North Street as a walkable, urban boulevard rather than an extension of the interstate.
Features such as a planted median, larger sidewalks, and clearer indications marking the entrance into the city would be means to achieve that end. The state Department of Transportation has been amenable to Plusurbia’s recommendations so far, Mullerat said, and appears enthusiastic about better integrating the road into the city.
“We were pleased to see the SCDOT was so forward-thinking,” he said.
The plan Plusurbia is preparing to submit to the city also includes ways to incentivize more development on the properties bordering East North Street. Those areas would be ideal for retail on the ground level with a mix of residential and commercial space above, Mullerat said. The plan outlines ways to spur growth such as offering additional density or building height to developers willing to invest and add features like additional parking or affordable housing.
Mullerat said he envisions a walkable area edged with storefronts and awnings.
“The best way to describe the vision for this boulevard is the kind of work that the city has been doing around Greenville,” he said. “It’s the type of great streets, the memorable spaces that the city has been working on. So we’re not inventing anything new. We’re recommending that the city continues the work they’ve done on other streets to humanize East North into a multiuse, multimodal approach up to the city.”
Developing the area could also create broader access for workforce and affordable housing. Mullerat said the stretch could support larger-scale affordable housing developments that could be subsidized by public funds and combined with marketrate units.

Pettigru Historic District

Directly to the south of East North Street is the Pettigru Historic District, a treelined area dotted with Queen Anne and Colonial Revivalist homes, many of which are more than a century old. The area between East North and East Washington streets is characterized by a mix of office space and residential properties.
Mullerat said preserving the historic character of the Pettigru District and creating a barrier between it and East North were key priorities as Plusurbia developed the master plan.
The preservation guidelines already in place are comprehensive, he said, so his team’s primary focus has been on creating a transition that provides adequate separation between the historic district and the busier corridor to the north. A survey of the topography found that the district sits roughly three stories higher than East North, meaning any new structures would have to be higher than that to impact the neighborhood’s skyline.
“We’ve cut several sections across the neighborhood looking at what kind of height we can allow that does not visually intrude in the historic neighborhood,” he said. “We don’t want buildings to be overwhelming.”
Offering incentives to develop vacant properties in the district and to modify large parking lots could also enhance the historic feel of the district, Mullerat said.
There’s room in the neighborhood to expand workforce housing, he said. While the area directly off of East North could support larger-scale development, residences such as modular units added to existing structures and the addition of duplexes or triplexes that match the character of the area would be more appropriate for the Pettigru District.

Bon Secours Wellness Arena

While the Bon Secours Wellness Arena is among the Upstate’s largest event venues, the area surrounding it is mostly undeveloped. Mullerat said his team plans to make that area a draw, even when there isn’t an event at the arena.
“It’s not really serving the city at large in the way that it potentially could,” he said. “Right now, it’s a single use, which is for events, whether it’s hockey or music or whatever it is. But it has the potential to become a much more active part of the community.”
The addition of food and retail, converting parking lots into parking garages and incentivizing the development of residential units surrounding the event space would spur more activity in the area and complement the arena, he said.
Fluor Field, a minor league baseball stadium in the city’s West End, is an example of the kind of relationship Mullerat said the arena should have with the area around it.
We are hoping, with our recommendations, the arena will provide a number of uses that can activate the arena beyond any event that will happen there,” he said.
Because the property is publicly owned, Mullerat said the city should explore ways to partner with private entities.

Greenville County Law Enforcement Center

Of the four key areas Plusurbia has identified, Mullerat said the future of the property where the Greenville County Law Enforcement Center now sits is the most uncertain.
The site currently houses the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenville County Detention Center and the Greenville County Juvenile Detention Center. The Greenville Police Department is also headquartered there but is in the process of relocating to former Fluor Daniel office building off of Haywood Road.
Mullerat said he recommends that the Sheriff’s Office also relocate to a newer facility and that the county jail be moved to another part of the county, farther from the urban core.
“I consider that site part of the city center,” he said. “So I think that the jail should move. Now, when that’s going to happen, I cannot answer that because it takes a lot to move a jail.”
If and when that will happen remains unclear, but the roughly 16-acre property, which sits where I-385 meets East North, would be a prime location for new development and expanding the arts and sports district that would surround the arena, he said.
The master plan Plusurbia developed for the property looks decades into the future, with a phased approach that would be implemented as portions of the property become available.

Next steps

If approved by City Council, Plusurbia’s plan would be incorporated in the zoning overhaul Greenville is currently undertaking.
Donovan said there will be more meetings with residents and business owners in the district to explain details of the plan and gather feedback. Once the plan is in the city’s hands, Mullerat said he plans to work closely with city officials and stakeholders to finalize it.
“We are not the type of firm that submits something and goes away,” he said. “We fell in love with Greenville right away. … So even if I have to do this pro bono, I’m telling you, we’re going to go back and forth and make sure we can help as much as we can once we submit it.”