Project focuses on preserving past, planning for future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 29, 2003

&uot;A great example of the quintessential southern town&uot; is how Professor Al Defrees of the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture described the Camellia City at a town meeting held at the Ritz Theatre last Saturday morning.

The meeting brought Defrees and his team of top architectural students together with approximately 60 local residents who wished to voice their opinions and share their &uot;wish lists&uot; of changes and additions desired for Greenville’s historic downtown area.

Defrees said that many Main Street cities like Greenville are making an effort today to rediscover their roots and recognize existing examples of architecture &uot;for the jewels they are.&uot;

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The Notre Dame program is one of the few in the US today that focuses on classical architecture, making it, Defrees believes, a perfect match for towns and cities trying to maintain their historical integrity.

Defrees stated that Greenville already had many pluses on its side. &uot;You have many strong assets here in the city…your wonderful churches, for example. They serve as an anchor, an important place in your heart.

You have a much more active commercial area than many other cities do…and you’ve already made some wonderful additions to the downtown area such as the landscaping, sidewalks and lamps.&uot;

Defrees’ twelve students had spent a busy day on Friday taking photographs, making notes and sketches and recording measurements for buildings and lots on Commerce Street from the courthouse to the water tower and on several blocks to the east and west between these landmarks.

From this work the students began to form ideas for changes, both large and small, to improve these areas.

After lunch at the First Baptist Family Life Center on Saturday the students and citizens broke into small groups, or charrettes, in order to further brainstorm ideas for additions or changes to the designated areas. Representatives from each group then presented their charrette's ideas.

There were dozens of ideas proposed that afternoon within each group, but many citizens seemed to be &uot;on the same page&uot; concerning their wish lists for downtown Greenville.

New parks, play areas, a downtown restaurant, a youth/community center, a farmer’s market, restored building facades, a walkway connecting the library to downtown, additional walking areas and bike paths, new landscaping and attractive signage directing visitors to historic downtown structures were among the most popular ideas expressed by the participants.

Several also expressed a desire to see a revitalization of the hilltop area near the water tower, hoping to see a more attractive western gateway to downtown Greenville developed.

Late Sunday afternoon another meeting was held at the Family Life Center.

Student renderings of the proposed changes were put on display and the students shared their key proposals with those assembled.

Defrees explained that the students focused their ideas on the west end of town "since that is definitely the area needing more attention."

Their suggestions included two phases of changes.

Phase I, which would not require a large outlay of capital, would focus on redefining sidewalks, adding traditional lampposts and clearing the overgrowth found in the West End area.

Phase II would largely involve faade renovation of existing structures and actual construction of new buildings.

An idea that piqued the interest of many present was the possible addition of a landscaped turn-about at the hilltop featuring a monument (possibly a WW II memorial) in its center.

Architecture student Ryan Duffy stated, "This [west] entrance to town doesn't say Greenville' to mewe believe this turn-about would tell people this IS a city worth stopping in.

"There are things that can be done to improve the appearance of the gas stations thereimprove sidewalks and make the area more accessible to people. You get an absolutely fantastic view of the courthouse and downtown from up there," Duffy added.

The students also shared plans to construct a handicapped accessible walkway connecting the public library to the downtown area.

They suggested possibly closing off the shortcut road from downtown to Ft Dale to create a walking trail and park area.

"The railroad played such a significant part in your town's history and we think it would be great to have some artifacts or sculptures based on the railroad in this area," explained Defrees.

Other suggestions included constructing a youth center and/or a park on the old Greenville Ford lot; adding back entrances, decks and landscaping to the rear of businesses along Commerce to create a more informal, pedestrian-friendly space; creating more loft apartments in the second story spaces above existing businesses and constructing a new welcome center where the Main Street building currently stands.

The students will take these and other project ideas back to Notre Dame where they will do further research resulting in a package including renovation plans for a dozen existing structures and plans for twelve new structures in Greenville.

These will be presented to the community later this spring when Defrees and some of the students return to the Camellia City.

Defrees commended the local citizens present for their enthusiasm for the student project.

He praised Main Street Executive Director Nancy Idland in particular for her "tremendous help" in organizing the busy weekend and noted he was sorry local historian Tom Braxton was ill and unable to attend ("I had planned to pick Tom's brain about all the wonderful history you have here").

There will be a Website local citizens can visit to get updates on the architectural project at


A group of participants is also planning to visit the Notre Dame campus in early March for a final review of the plans.

At the close of the Sunday meeting, Debra Hood of the Sasanqua Garden Club expressed how much she had enjoyed being a part of the charrette process. "It was wonderful watching these students at workthey are all so together and so talented.

It has been a wonderful experience for me and I'm sure for many others."