How A Park Helped One Town Weather The Recession During the worst of the recession, new development ground to a halt and small businesses closed their doors on many Main Streets. That wasn't the case in Greenville, S.C., and while it seems improbable that a city would thrive during the recession, the city's mayor credits a mix of good luck and good fundamentals.
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How A Park Helped One Town Weather The Recession

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How A Park Helped One Town Weather The Recession

How A Park Helped One Town Weather The Recession

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

From member station WFAE, Julie Rose reports.

JULIE ROSE: The nickel tour of Greenville starts at a window on the 10th floor of City Hall.

KNOX WHITE: Our perfectly gorgeous city is very visible from over here.

ROSE: With a can of Starbucks espresso in one hand, Mayor Knox White uses his neon green BlackBerry to point out a half-dozen construction projects underway downtown. The most recent includes...

WHITE: Green space in the middle, which is an ice skating rink in the winter, kind of like our own little Rockefeller Center.

ROSE: Greenville has a population of 58,000. White's been the city's Republican mayor for 15 years and is running unopposed for another term. He's slim, middle-aged, a bit frenetic, and eager to show off the park that helped Greenville weather the recession.

WHITE: You'll see for yourself the huge impact this park has had on the city.

ROSE: Greenville has a beautiful, natural waterfall smack in the middle of its downtown that was hidden for decades by a concrete overpass, warehouses and boarded-up buildings. White took some political heat, but convinced the city to fund a 20-acre public garden around the waterfall and a suspension foot bridge above.

WHITE: The park cost $13 million. Within two years, over $100 million in private investment was created around the park - hotels, restaurants, condominiums, apartments. The entire, what we call the West End of our downtown, just blossomed.

ROSE: To attract developers, the city pays for green space and parking garages connected to projects. Mayor White has even been known to line up land and funding for companies. He's Greenville's chief cheerleader, but only one of seven votes on the City Council, split four to three, Republican to Democrat. Those lines don't mean much, though, says Democratic Councilwoman Gaye Sprague.

GAYE SPRAGUE: There is a fiscal conservatism that crosses party lines, so when it comes time to tighten the belt, if that's right for the citizens of Greenville, that's what we all get behind.

ROSE: Mechanical Voice: Please insert your parking ticket.

WHITE: We definitely established some strong fundamentals in place before the recession. There's no doubt about that.

ROSE: Strong as it is today, University of South Carolina economist Doug Woodward says Greenville is not immune to economic turmoil.

DOUG WOODWARD: If the national economy goes down, they're going to go down with it. There's certain things they certainly can't control.

ROSE: And, Woodward notes, the Greenville area's unemployment rate is still around 9 percent. People without technical skills or advanced degrees struggle most to find jobs.

TAWANA MORALES: My name's Tawana Morales.

ROSE: She waited with nearly 100 others for the Greenville unemployment office to open one morning last week. Morales worked for nine years at a diner.

MORALES: And the money was really good. But then the last two years I just noticed the economy was so low, and when I was used to making $150 a day and went down to 75, and I was paying $25 to go to work - gas was so high - I just couldn't do it.

ROSE: For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose.

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