Recently, I had the unique opportunity to spend an amazing 3 days in the city of Greenville South Carolina with 25 Fort Wayne leaders. A very special thank you to Cheri Becker of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. for coordinating this “inter-city” visit and to the especially cordial and accommodating folks of Greenville who hosted us.
What resonated with me the most was the clear and universal message that several years ago Greenville finally said “enough is enough” and became a city willing to put a stake in the ground about what they wanted to be – walkable, pedestrian friendly, family oriented and entrepreneurial – and then marshalled all of their resources to become that city or better stated – that vision of what their city could be. We heard that shared vision over and over during our 3 day visit.
We were also reminded that their success didn’t happen overnight. During our visit, I loved one of the quotes from Hank Hyatt of the Chamber of Commerce when he said “…Greenville is a 40 year over-night success story”. While there is a sense of urgency, their patience and diligence has led to a sense of community pride and genuine friendliness you could feel the minute we stepped off the plane Wednesday, it was evident during every presentation and didn’t stop until we boarded the plane Friday afternoon.
We learned there were several courageous decisions made along the way that has made all the difference – starting with renovating the historic hotel on Main Street instead of tearing it down, implementing an aggressive streetscape plan to replace concrete and slow down speeding cars, focusing on “mixed-use” buildings with commerce on the first floor and residential units above, creating a “Riverwalk” along the Reedy River while closing a major vehicular bridge and converting it to a pedestrian bridge spanning the river and building a minor league baseball stadium a short walk from the downtown to name just a few. And after hearing of their future plans, I could go on and on; thus the reason we went to Greenville.
It’s hard to put a value on the importance of these “inter-city” visits – the takeaways are invaluable and memorable. They also serve as a validation that Fort Wayne is on the right path and an affirmation that we are not alone in the challenges faced by growing cities. Affordable housing and transportation come to mind as issues Greenville is currently wrestling with as they manage their growth.
I believe our Fort Wayne delegation was inspired by our visit, by what we saw and heard directly from the leaders who have led the charge and has brought back many ideas and best practices that can help Fort Wayne continue its momentum.
CEO and President