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Greenville Business Magazine

City Leadership Plans for Growth, While Retaining ‘Small-Town Charm’

Nov 03, 2022 03:26PM ● By John C. Stevenson

Today’s Fountain Inn calls itself a city – the name’s right there on City Hall. Everyone agrees Fountain Inn is on its way to becoming a full-fledged city. But even as Fountain Inn grows into its city moniker, its leadership stresses that the city will never lose its small-town charm.

“I think Fountain Inn has always been rooted in small-town charm, and I think that will never leave Fountain Inn – if we work hard on all the things that make small-town charm possible,” said Mayor G.P. McLeer Jr., who was elected in 2019. “So I think how Fountain Inn feels in terms of folks when they are visiting, living here, working here, playing here – that small-town charm will continue to live on for as long as possible.”

The spot that is now Fountain Inn was well known to Native Americans as a crossroads; the town itself was established in 1886, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and first served as a stagecoach stop between Columbia, in the Midlands, and Asheville, in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

In the mid-20th century, Fountain Inn thrived as it rode the textiles-manufacturing wave that swept through the Upstate. Despite the textiles wave’s crashing in the 1970s, which saw most mills throughout the region shuttered, future development pays homage to that mill-town manufacturing history, including Woodside Village, an expansive multiuse development that takes its name from the former Woodside Mill; and the Mill at Fountain Inn, which will be a unique dining and entertainment destination housed in a former flour mill.

Blending past and future

Now the city is once again experiencing boom times: population has grown by almost 6 percent between the 2000 census and the 2020 census, from 6,017 residents to 10,416; the first new high school to open in Greenville County in 50 years is Fountain Inn High, which opened in 2021; and the Fountain Inn Chamber of Commerce reports that 57 businesses have joined just this year.

Marnie Schwartz-Hanley, president and CEO of the Fountain Inn Chamber of Commerce, noted that growth is a reality outside of the Upstate, also.

“It’s not just us; it’s the entire state,” Schwartz-Handley said. “We’re seeing enormous growth in this area; some of it was anticipated as we saw demographics changing – people getting squeezed out of big cities, wanting a slower pace of life – and I think the pandemic really amplified that. People in other places said, ‘I can’t even run my business right now,’ and South Carolina, we never really shut down. We were not shut down for business like a lot of states were.”

She praised City Council for taking a pragmatic approach to growth.

“Fountain Inn (leadership) – they see what’s coming, they do not approve every project that comes before council,” she said. “They really put some thought into it. It’s amazing to see the growth and to watch the city be mindful of that.”

At the intersection of the two trends – growth and property divestment -- is the city, and the mayor said it’s the city’s responsibility to encourage responsible growth.

“I’ve always wanted to do it in a way that is objective as possible, is as clear and transparent as possible, and respects the rights of the property owner, whether that be a person or a company or a business, that doesn’t try to impede the free market but also that takes into account the responsible role of government,” McLeer said.

“Where all of those intersect with government is zoning,” he continued. “That’s the best tool we have at our disposal to make it clear to those who wish to do something with the property that is allowed, that makes it clear to the community about the restrictions that are put in place. It goes to, I think, the appropriate role of government.”

A downtown renaissance

Things that won’t change, McLeer said, include a wide range of annual events and festivals the city has become known for, such as the Christmas “Inn” Our Town festival, including the Christmas Tree lighting and Christmas parade; the Mac Arnold Cornbread and Collard Greens Blues Festival; the Sounds of Summer concert series; the Aunt Het Festival, which celebrates a fictional character created by Robert Quillen, a humorist and journalist who founded the Fountain Inn Tribune newspaper; and many others. 

“You’ll still see some of the markers of what our community has created as anchors,” McLeer said. “you’ll still see those anchors in the community. I think you’ll see our downtown area continue its second renaissance – which is starting right now – and you’ll also see an expansion of parks in the area, not just close to downtown but on the Laurens County side of town, across I-385. I think you’re going to see more of what makes Fountain Inn great.”

Many of those anchors are part of Fountain Inn’s core – its downtown business district which runs along Main Street.

The mayor quickly ticked off a list of projects that are either underway in Fountain Inn or are at some stage of consideration, including:

More commercial offerings downtown

Completion of the Main Street Streetscape

Connect existing Swamp Rabbit Trail segments to downtown Fountain Inn, Simpsonville, and Laurens County.

Sewer-line rehabilitation

Renovation of the Sanctified Hill Park in Laurens County

Infrastructure planning

Schwartz-Hanley said she appreciates the city’s efforts to preserve the city’s small-town charm, and she believes it will be successful.

“I think what Fountain Inn is doing well is they are focusing on keeping Fountain Inn cozy,” she said. “When you come to downtown Fountain Inn, you have that historic, downtown feel, right here on Main Street. You may not have that everywhere in Fountain Inn, but you’ll be able to go to the center of town and always feel like you’re in a small town.”