Kitson Mill Revitalization
By ADAM BENSON email@example.com Jun 2, 2019
This past week, Greenwood officials huddled behind closed doors for more than an hour before assembling at a City Council meeting and announcing plans to list the Kitson Mill site.
It was a brief vote — finished in a matter of minutes — but one that might have marked the start of a reclamation project unlike few in recent history.
Running parallel with the city’s decision to put a $350,000 price tag on the 6.8-acre site is an ambitious plan by Greenville-based preservationist Kyle Campbell to transform a crumbling former recreation center on Jackson Avenue — just across from the mill property — into sleek apartments for young professionals.
City Manager Julie Wilkie said the dual development efforts present a rare opportunity for Greenwood to redefine the landscape of a once thriving textile village into a hub of modern commerce and living.
“Given the proximity to the city center, I believe this area is primed for the right type of private investment. The city is hopeful that the right private investor will come along that will be the catalyst this parcel needs,” she said. “And I believe development of apartments in the 314 Jackson Avenue property will also spur development in this area.”
Bringing the parcel back onto the city’s tax rolls has been a yearslong goal with a $200,000 federal Environmental Protection Agency grant in 2015 kickstarting work. To date, more than $600,000 has been spent on remediation efforts, with local and state aid paying for the balance.
From 1890 through 2008, the location housed a textile mill that fed the city’s economy.
Confidence about the mill’s future isn’t just built off hometown optimism. A 2017 analysis by Charlotte-based Benchmark Planning revealed that the neighborhood is ripe for an economic renaissance.
“At the time we prepared the study we found a wide range of potential market-based uses for the site within the context of the Uptown Greenwood influence area,” Benchmark president Jason Epley said. “If there have not been any significant changes, and the potential demand for those uses has not been filled elsewhere in the Uptown area, then we think those identified uses would still be feasible in that location. We are excited to see the city moving forward.”
Benchmark’s study area included 2,000 acres that spans Uptown Greenwood and the Kitson Mill site. Within that radius is a population base of more than 9,200, and the average age of residents is just under 31 years old.
The 2017 study and a countywide comprehensive plan indicate the benefits that can arise from infill development such as the opportunity Kitson Mill represents.
“As growth extends past older suburbs, buildings are abandoned and often left to deteriorate,” the comprehensive plan notes. “A successful community revitalization effort should address these older suburbs as well as the urban area.”
Greenwood Partnership Alliance CEO Heather Simmons Jones said the property’s location to Uptown could mean even more private investment should the mill site be put back into viable use.
“While it is not in Uptown, it is adjacent and due to this proximity allows for some interesting opportunities to connect multi-family, office or light industrial/flex space to the already flourishing offerings in Uptown,” Jones said. “Adding housing gives more feet in the streets. Its proximity to other industrial assets offers some creative opportunities to add flex space or maker space. Ultimately, a mix of uses could bring an interesting asset to Greenwood, further expanding the revitalization of our community.”
With flexible zoning criteria that allow for a range of uses, Wilkie and other city leaders said they can afford to be patient in waiting for the right project to emerge. It’s also possible for the council to offer tax incentives or other sweeteners to land a deal.
“Our mill villages are little gems in our city and we need to continue to spur compatible development that will keep the city fresh,” Wilkie said. “As far as incentives for development, I would only be guessing at this time. What City Council is willing or not willing to do will depend on the specific details proposed for the site and we just aren’t that far along in the process yet,” she said. “The City Council wants the right type of development that will complement the existing nearby uses and be a catalyst for the community.”
Epley’s firm found that Kitson Mill could support up to 10,000 square feet of office space, suggesting partnerships with legacy tenants such as Lander University or the Greenwood Genetic Center.
Betty Brown, who lives nearby the Kitson site on Draper Avenue, said she’s happy to see attention being paid to the long-standing brownfield, and is open to any kind of development except one.
“As long as they don’t put in low-income housing, it’s fine, or else we’ll have a lot of no good people around,” she said.
With 32 market-rate residential multifamily and affordable housing developments in Greenwood, adding more stock to Kitson Mill likely wouldn’t generate high demand, Epley’s firm found.
But Campbell, who plans to market his four 1,200-square-feet units to young professionals who aren’t ready to purchase a starter home, believes all future investment in the historic Greenwood Mill Village must serve a common goal.
“It needs the site across the street to be rehabilitated as well to make it work. Jackson Avenue is a nice street in that neighborhood, but the entire area will benefit from something happening across the street,” he said. “I think what I’m doing hopefully will dovetail well with what a future developer wants to do at the mill site. From a preservation standpoint, I think all those buildings are great and I’d love to see them reused. For me, it was less about the area and more about the building. You could not build not that today, and it was too great a building to just see wiped off the map.”