Aerial view of the gateway to Spartanburg's Northside. Credit: Northside Development Corporation

By Melanie Lasoff Levs

Leaders and residents in the Northside community of Spartanburg, S.C., are still celebrating the announcement last month that three donors have contributed a collective $7.5 million to the continued revitalization of their neighborhood. While $3.5 million has been earmarked for the building of an early childhood development center, the other $4 million will be spent on what a community committee determines are the greatest needs, says Curt McPhail, project manager of the Northside Development Corporation (NDC), formed in 2010.

The funds — from The Mary Black Foundation, the Romill Foundation, and former Spartanburg mayor and philanthropist Bill Barnet and family — “show a commitment and belief in this vision and effort we’ve created,” McPhail says. “That three different [entities] would contribute this kind of money is really special. It’s a thumbs up and a high five to the work we’re trying to do.”

That work includes razing a hotel building quality mixed-income housing along with an early childhood development center, a community center and other amenities, says Barnet, who is serving as chairman of the NDC. “We’re starting to build the kind of quality housing we think is important for people who live there,” he adds. “They’re now seeing what the standard is that we expect [for the neighborhood.]”

Currently, three duplexes have been built, and all six units are occupied, and NDC expects to break ground on eight more units this spring, according to McPhail. Ground-breaking for an outdoor space with a creek also is expected in 2015, and a community center and the early childhood development center should follow in 2016, he says. NDC is currently awaiting decision from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on a grant application to fund more housing.

Along with housing, the pride of Northside is Harvest Park — a farmer’s market, community garden and farm-to-table cafe — where the announcement about the recent influx of donations was made. “I can throw a rock to it from where I live,” says Tony Thomas, a  23-year resident of Northside, former president of its neighborhood association and member of the prestigious Voyagers program of community leaders. Having the city’s farmer’s market in what used to be a dirty, crime-ridden neighborhood proves revitalization is possible, he adds. “Who ever thought you could get a panini in Northside?”

Amenities such as Harvest Park appeal to both current and future residents, says McPhail, and NDC is engaging stakeholders to determine how to use the recent influx of donations. “We’ve often said we want to create a community of choice, where folks who live here choose to stay, and folks who don’t live here choose to move,” he says. “We are working with the community to find out what that looks like to them.”