The grant is a major step forward for a group of community leaders already working to reinvigorate the Northside neighborhood with mixed-income housing, strong schools, and support services like parks, recreation centers, retail, transportation and health services.
“This is the start of something big,” said Mayor Junie White of Spartanburg. “This is just the beginning. We want to turn this community around.”
The stakes are high. Success means job creation, better schools for children, healthier foods for families, potential private sector investment worth millions of dollars, and a more vibrant downtown. Failure means a broken promise to Northside residents who say their neighborhood is starting to show signs of progress.
The planning process is one step in what is essentially a calculated bet: can leaders in Spartanburg take a low-income neighborhood hammered by the housing crisis and peppered with crime, drugs, and prostitution and turn it into a safe, thriving, mixed-income community with great schools and amenities?
An alliance including community businesses, colleges, city government and non-profit groups have not only said “yes,” but they’ve also doubled down by collectively investing millions of dollars in redevelopment efforts that include buying land, committing to build a city recreation center in the neighborhood, developing a healthy food hub, and building new housing.
Bolstered by an additional $600,000 in real dollar and in-kind contributions from a variety of groups, the city will use the planning grant to spend two years gathering data, hosting meetings and building momentum and consensus for community revitalization.
Although the grant centers on two complexes of public housing, Oakview Terrace and Archibald Rutledge, the planning process will allow a diverse group of leaders and Northside residents to identify opportunities, strategize and envision how to best transform the whole Northside community.
The Northside isn’t big. It’s several square miles at most, and it’s bordered to the north by Cleveland Park and to the south by Spartanburg’s downtown and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. Wofford College and Spartanburg Regional Medical Center are just across the street to the east.
“The hospital, Woffod, VCOM, all the things are there in the recipe to make something really special,” said Curt McPhail, program officer at the Mary Black Foundation and point man for the Northside Development Corporation, which was formed to lead redevelopment in the neighborhood.
The federal grant comes through the Choice Neighborhoods program, which is the offspring of the HOPE VI program that supported redevelopment efforts in Spartanburg’s southern neighborhoods.
“What I would call Choice Neighborhoods in just my own vernacular is HOPE VI on steroids,” said Ed Jennings Jr., the regional HUD administrator who presented the $300,000 award to Spartanburg officials at the Cleveland Academy of Leadership on Friday.
Unlike earlier redevelopment efforts in Spartanburg that focused primarily on renovating or redeveloping housing, city leaders today are hoping to improve neighborhood schools, meet job needs in the community, address health care gaps and build quality housing that will both serve those in public housing and attract middle and upper-income families into the area.
“It’s really looking at coming up with a roadmap or master plan of how to reinvigorate and transform the neighborhood into a community of choice and not a place where people are there because they don’t have alternatives,” said Jaime Bordenave, president of The Communities Group, the city’s contracted planning coordinator for the Northside who has worked on many such projects before.
The grant is a milestone on a development trail that already includes millions of dollars of investment in the Northside.
The medical school VCOM was the catalyst for revitalization when it announced it would build a $25 million school on the site of the old Spartan Mill.
Since then, the city has spun off a non-profit, the Northside Development Corporation to build partnerships and buy vacant or condemned properties in the Northside. To date, it has raised $2.5 million and bought 65 parcels, which will be the land on which new housing will eventually be built.
The federal planning grant will not directly affect any current neighborhood residents. The announcement does not mean Oakview Terrace or Archibald Rutledge will close. It does mean that people like Bordenave and McPhail will be recruiting Northside residents to sit on planning committees related to housing, education and social services so that the people living in the area will have a say in what happens to the neighborhood.
“The real key to this is making sure the community has a voice, and the community understands the benefit, but also leads a lot in terms of what needs to happen,” McPhail said.
The residents will join a diverse group of partners already working in the Northside. They include the City of Spartanburg, Spartanburg Housing Authority, Spartanburg Community Foundation, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, Wofford College, Mary Black Foundation, Spartanburg School District 7, United Way of the Piedmont, Piedmont Community Actions, VCOM, Spartanburg County, Purpose Built Communities.
Many of these groups will aid in the planning process, which Bordenave said is the key to igniting a redevelopment engine that could eventually attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.
“The whole thing is to build momentum, build partners and get people to coalesce around needs, and I’ve seen it everywhere we’ve worked, if people are earnestly engaged in this process, it’s amazing what comes out of this,” he said.
By ANDREW DOUGHMAN