Mar 212013



Thursday, March 21, 2013

If Greenville’s downtown revitalization effort is to succeed, it cannot depend solely on grant funding, public investment or other incentives to develop new opportunities. It will require the infusion of private money to bring residential and commercial options as well, resources that will serve to facilitate the growth of a more engaging and enjoyable experience in that part of the city.

It is therefore exciting to see unveiled a proposed $40 million student housing complex featuring retail space, slated for construction in the heart of downtown. If the plans proceed and that dream is realized in the coming years, it could bring thousands of students within walking distance of East Carolina University and ultimately become a cornerstone of the city’s future.

When the Imperial Tobacco plant on Atlantic Avenue burned in a devastating 2008 fire, Greenville lost more than a link to a century of cultivating the golden leaf. The owners of the facility hoped to transform it into mixed-use residential and retail space, appealing to young professionals due to its location and innovation. Its destruction leveled those hopes as well.

Similar projects have transformed other North Carolina cities; Durham’s renaissance is anchored by its American Tobacco complex, for instance. Though it is hard to look at the Imperial Tobacco site now, with its petroleum contamination and other concerns, to see what could have been, there seems to exist a market for mixed-use space that brings residential property closer to downtown.

Local developers Tom Taft and Jim Ward are betting that’s the case with their plans to build a five-story apartment complex on Reade Circle, adjacent to the East Carolina campus. The facility will include 240 multi-family units, with 545 rooms, and include a pool, health club and a parking deck. Most exciting is the inclusion of 11,000 square feet of street-front retail space that will accentuate the downtown experience.

By relocating hundreds of students downtown, it should decrease the number of vehicles and increase foot traffic in the area. That, in turn, should help retail businesses, who may see more walk-up sales as well as those that fill the new mixed-use space. There are always concerns about crime but, if addressed, the venture will be a key part of building a new downtown for Greenville.

What was lost to a disaster five years ago may yet rise from the ashes with this new plan. It is an exciting proposal and one that could be an asset to the city.

via The Daily Reflector.


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