Northside plans

Harvest Park-- Northside's Healthy Food Hub


Urban farm, Farmers Market, and teaching kitchen. Oh My!

Often, the most simple, straightforward statements or questions produce the most innovative, impactful solutions. Case in point: Harvest Park, a concept that was hatched more than three years ago when, at a neighborhood meeting, a resident asked the following question:

 “The ice cream trucks have no problem selling ice cream in our community — I just wish there was a truck that sold vegetables!”

That idea was the impetus for the Mobile Farmers Market, a service of the wildly popular Hub City Farmers Market.  That “truck that sells vegetables” is today 3 years old, and has sold tons of fresh fruits and vegetables to Northside residents and many others throughout the county simply by bringing the option to their neighborhood. Last year alone the Mobile Market sold 5 tons of veggies!

But while the truck was and remains a great resource, Northside residents made it clear it was not enough. The area has long been classified as a food desert, meaning access to fresh fruits and vegetables was non-existent with the nearest full-service grocery store more than a mile away along a heavily traveled thoroughfare not conducive for travel except in a motorized vehicle. Indeed, for years, Northside residents have dreamed of a place where the community could learn how food was grown, buy it and learn to cook it.

And that is the concept behind Harvest Park, a development that will house an urban farm and greenhouse, the Saturday Hub City Farmers Market, and the Monarch, a retail space and teaching kitchen. A concept like this takes more than just wishes to come true. It takes multiple partners, and Harvest Park is a testament to the power of the partnership between the Northside Development Group, the City of Spartanburg, the Butterfly Foundation (which will own and operate the Monarch), and the Hub City Farmers Market (which will manage the farm and market space). All four parties are committed to a development that will ameliorate the food desert and create a significant new community amenity that will draw residents from throughout the Northside and beyond.   

Harvest Park is set to open in late August and will be the first commercial development to result from the Northside Initative.


Butterfly Branch-- Northside's future daylighted creek

A river (OK, creek) runs through it!

Talk to folks who either lived or worked on the City of Spartanburg’s Northside decades ago, and it won’t take long until the conversation turns to water. In fact, the stories about the old artesian well there are some of the most entertaining you’ll hear about the Northside of the past. Longtime residents talk about walking to the well for water and all the fun and mischief that routinely accompanied the journey.

Shortly after the Northside Initiative began, the Mary Black Foundation made a grant to the USC Upstate Watershed Ecology to investigate the spring that fed this well and fed a creek that winds through a good chunk of the City, including right through the heart of the Northside. Sometime in the mid 20th century, to support the industrial and development needs of the time, most of the creek was covered and piped. Only a small portion on the backside of the old Spartan Mill parking lot remained “daylighted.”

The USC Upstate study identified the creek area, recommended daylighting it, and worked with students at the Cleveland Academy of Leadership to rename the creek Butterfly Branch.

In January 2014, the plan to daylight the Butterfly Branch and transform it into a defining feature of the area emerged from a two-day community planning charette. The plan includes a linear park along both banks of the creek, while will provide an amazing new opportunity for people to be physically active or just enjoy nature.

Here is where good planning and good fortune intersected. At the same time it is heavily investing in the future of the Northside, the City of Spartanburg has plans to significantly lengthen the runway at the Downtown Memorial Airport, a project that will only elevate what is already a powerful regional economic development facility. Because the runway expansion work will disturb a creek on the site, federal watershed protection regulations require the City to mitigate that disturbance. The current plan, subject to Army Corps of Engineers approval, is to use the Butterfly Branch project to satisfy those mitigation requirements, allowing the City to use part of the federal grant for the airport runway extension project to help pay for the daylighting of the Butterfly Branch.  Phase 2 of the Butterfly Branch project will include additional park amenities.


T.K. Gregg Center-- Northside's Community Center focused on community programs


If you program it, they will come

For as long as cities have invested community revitalization work, those efforts have largely focused on physical structures. Building new housing and new school buildings. New recreation centers and playgrounds. Sometimes even new strip shopping centers or office parks.

But if you talk to Mitch Kennedy, the City of Spartanburg’s Community Services Director, about the Northside Initiative, 30 minutes or more might go by before you ever hear a word about anything that will involve bricks and mortar. For good reason: the focus of the Northside Initiative is on people. Creating better opportunities for education and job training. Providing new amenities for physical activity and healthy living. Enhancing their access to health care. And on and on.

Which makes a conversation about the planned new community center especially interesting. The City Council has committed to building a new Dr. T.K. Gregg Center by 2017, somewhere in the Northside footprint, possibly next door to the Cleveland Academy of Leadership. Once constructed, it will no doubt be a beautiful facility, though as of now no architectural work has been done. It will include many of the bells and whistles a modern-day recreation/community center should have. Think C.C. Woodson Center as a starting point.

But the physical structure isn’t what excites Kennedy the most. It’s the people who will be there every day — the children in after-school programs, people in computer or financial literacy classes, the workout and exercise classes, and the steady rotation of community and service groups using the center for meetings.

“It’s not about the building,” Kennedy said. “It’s about the programs. You have to program a facility to bring it to life and make it relevant and essential to people. That’s what helps people build better lives, and that’s what in turn helps to build a community. That’s what I live for and that’s why I’m so excited about what’s happening on the Northside. We’re keeping the people and the programs first.”

Which isn’t to say the building itself won’t be important. It is estimated that the new T.K. Gregg Center will cost about $7 million, a hefty price tag for a City with an annual operating budget of just more than $30 million. 

“There is no doubt in my mind we are going to design a beautiful center, and it will be a place where people love to be,” Kennedy said. “But the programs the community wants and needs will drive the design. Function and form will eventually come together and create a special facility for a special neighborhood.”