Introducing: Spartanburg Downtown Development Partnership

When Jansen Tidmore first stepped foot in Downtown Spartanburg on a morning last March, he had a pretty good idea what he might see.

Monday, October 9, 2017

by Will Rothschild

 He had already spent five years as the chief downtown development professional in another Southern town. As part of that work, he visited downtowns all over the Southeast, walking their streets and visiting their shops, watering holes and offices. He listened and learned from planners and developers at numerous downtown development-focused conferences. He read everything he could about why downtowns are important and what makes them work. He lived, breathed, and dreamed downtown development.

“Downtowns are beautiful not just because of the businesses that are there, but because of the passion that those businesses represent,” Tidmore says. “These aren’t just businesses, they are passions for their owners, and that passion feeds an energy that attracts more people. And I’m passionate about helping to increase that energy.”

Back to that first day in Downtown Spartanburg. After evaluating dozens of downtowns, Tidmore was struck by some features of Spartanburg’s that perhaps require a newcomer with a fresh set of eyes to notice. Tidmore described these as the innate, physical advantages of Spartanburg’s central business district.

“First,” Tidmore said, “I was surprised by how large downtown was. Its sheer size is impressive. And the second was the physical layout, the street grid, and the mix of buildings and undeveloped land. It all positions Downtown Spartanburg for long-term success.”

And now, for the first time, with the launch in May of the Downtown Development Partnership, Spartanburg has an organization solely focused on ensuring that kind of long-term success. A key recommendation of the OneSpartanburg economic development strategic plan and housed at the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the DDP promises to build on and accelerate downtown’s revitalization. Tidmore was named to lead the new organization in May, and the native Alabamian has been on the ground in Downtown Spartanburg virtually every
day since.

In between dozens of meetings with downtown business owners, residents, property owners, real estate agents, developers and potential investors, Tidmore has begun to formulate a plan for taking Downtown Spartanburg to the proverbial next level, what he calls a “true 24/7 downtown, one that is not just open during the workday, but one that is open and filled with activity every day.” And while significant progress has been made, with dozens of new business openings and more than $100 million in new investment in just the past two years alone, the Spartanburg community is eager to see even more happen downtown.

That was never more apparent than during the Chamber of Commerce’s community and economic development visioning process that resulted in the OneSpartanburg plan. In survey after survey and meeting after meeting, one word came up more than any other: “Downtown.”  

“The city is excited about the DDP and the opportunity to build on downtown’s economic development momentum,” said Spartanburg City Manager Ed Memmott. “The DDP will expand on current efforts and provide additional capacity to sell downtown to a broader market as we all strive to attract more capital investment and new jobs to Spartanburg.”

Indeed, the partnership between the DDP and the City of Spartanburg will be crucial. From parking, infrastructure, beautification and streetscaping improvements to development incentives, Spartanburg
City Council has committed millions of dollars to seeding downtown’s growth in recent years.

“The City deserves a lot of credit for their efforts in the beautification of downtown and the investments they have made to get downtown to this point,” Tidmore said. “I have had a lot of friends and family members come visit since I’ve been here, and without fail all of them have commented on the obvious time and resources the City invests in the landscaping, from the hanging baskets to the well-maintained sidewalks that encourage a walkable experience. The pride is evident.”

Now, for the first time, the City has a singularly focused downtown development partner. And from attracting more companies that support high-paying jobs to working to expand restaurant and retail offerings, Tidmore will have his plate full. One of his first priorities is building a complete data set of every property and parcel downtown and understanding the unique characteristics, challenges and advantages of each one. Building a pipeline of potential investors, developers, and businesses looking for downtown environments in which to build, expand and/or operate has already begun. And working with the City and other partners such as the Chapman Cultural Center to continue to improve, develop and effectively market downtown’s quality of place will remain key.

In many ways it’s a long game, but one that Tidmore is comfortable with.

“You are never done with this kind of work, and much of this will be years in the making,” Tidmore said. “The bottom line is downtown success is derived from energy. I see our job as increasing that energy. If more people are coming downtown, spending more time downtown, supporting the businesses that are downtown — if the energy is increasing — we are succeeding.”

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