Comparing two cities

Greenville Mount PleasantPopulation 60,379 69,357Main street Main Street Coleman Blvd.Focal point Falls Park Shem CreekMedian income $40,291 $75,842Land area (sq. mi.) 28.7 45.1U.S. Census Bureau

Mount Pleasant passed Greenville as the state’s fourth-largest city years ago, but the Upstate town is still ahead when it comes to streetscapes.

Several Mount Pleasant officials visited Greenville this month to learn how the city converted its downtown into a pedestrian-friendly place — with personality.

What they learned will inform their $10 million redo of Coleman Boulevard early next year.

“I don’t know if you can compare the two — Coleman Boulevard to (Greenville’s) Main Street, but you can compare the concept,” Mayor Billy Swails said after the trip. “Coleman needs a face-lift, and it needs to be our main street.”

The town’s Coleman makeover has been a yearslong endeavor, beginning with the new Moultrie Middle School and its adjacent Farmer’s Market shed, a new park at Shem Creek, plus zoning changes that have created more pocket parks and outdoor dining next to the sidewalks.

Still, the streetscape project that will begin next year promises to be the most dramatic change so far.

The $10 million will address Coleman Boulevard’s drainage problem between Simmons Street and Chuck Dawley Boulevard and create a roundabout at the latter.

But it also will involve new medians and other smaller details designed to give the street a greater sense of place.

Town planning director Christiane Farrell said the Greenville trip was useful for council members to get ideas from how the city handled things like public benches, bike racks, trash cans, signs and flower boxes — not necessarily to copy them but to get a sense of what works well.

Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall said she was impressed with the outdoor dining along Greenville’s Main Street, as well as the city’s public art program — one bankrolled by private developers. She also was impressed with Greenville’s signs for pedestrians.

Town Councilman Elton Carrier — who began working on Coleman’s makeover long before he was elected two years ago — said he also was impressed with how Greenville works with its businesses along the street.

In addition to the tour, Swails, five council members and some of the town’s top staff met with Greenville Mayor Knox White and Mary Douglas Hirsch, Greenville’s downtown development manager.

Carrier said Hirsch handles all the complaints and issues along Main Street — the types of things that Mount Pleasant has delegated to four or five different department heads.

Swails agreed: “They cut through a lot of red tape — that’s the thing that impressed me the most.”

Having Town Council members on the same page will help as criticism of the plan emerges, particularly its on-street parking.

“We’re going to get push-back,” Carrier said, adding he has heard from older residents urging him, “Leave it alone. We like it the way it is.”

Carrier said there are “a lot of misconceptions,” such as that Coleman will be narrowed to two lanes to provide parking spaces on the street.

While the town is looking to add about 160 on-street spaces, it also plans to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction.

Swails said a few hundred residents attended a Coleman public hearing this year, and he felt most everyone came away impressed with the plan.

“You’re going to have some naysayers,” he added, “but I think when all is said and done, they’re going to like what they see.”

The S.C. Department of Transportation is reviewing the plans and is expected to respond to the town soon.

Once that takes place, the town will put its own finishing touches on the plans and seek bids. Swails said the yearlong construction work could begin around the middle of next year.

Carrier said the town’s conversion of Coleman, like Greenville’s Main Street improvements, will take more than a decade, “but in the end, it will be beautiful.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.