There has been a lot of talk about a “City Center” for Mauldin over the years.
Perhaps you have been to one of the presentations, at City Hall or the Cultural Center; there have been a number of them. Each one shows a number of artists’ conceptions – sketches showing someone’s idea of what Mauldin’s City Center could be. No two are the same. What’s going on?
Mauldin in the Past
For those who are old enough to recall, Mauldin was once little more than a crossroads. Cars traveled through Mauldin to get somewhere else.
That was especially true before I-385 was completed, about 1981. In 1980, I-385 went only from Greenville to I-85 and Woodruff Road. Highway US-276 – Mauldin’s Main Street – was the primary route between Greenville and points south: Simpsonville, Fountain Inn, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Savannah, or Florida. If you were headed south from Greenville, Mauldin’s Main Street was the first leg of your trip.
During that same period many of the subdivisions which are now a part of Mauldin were built. Mauldin became a place to live; a bedroom community. Stores, businesses, and jobs became an important part of Mauldin’s community. By 2000 it became clear that a little planning would be worthwhile to attract more businesses and stores, to improve the lives of Mauldin’s residents. That translated into the vision for a “City Center”.
What is a “City Center”?
A City Center is a place to go, where you park your car and then travel on foot for all your planned activities. That is in contrast to “box stores” – drive to this grocery store; drive to that department store; drive to a restaurant; drive to your job. A City Center concentrates all of those things – even including places to live – all in one location.
Imagine this: it’s Saturday afternoon. Load your family into the car and drive from your home to the City Center. Do a little shopping. Let the kids play in a “mini-park” for a while. Walk to a restaurant to have supper together. Afterwards, go to a play or concert. By then it’s getting late; but on your way back to your car, you all stop for some ice cream cones. Family memories are built on times like that. Those times will serve as role models for your kids, when they have kids of their own.
You cannot do that without a City Center. If Mauldin is to be a more family-oriented community, a City Center is something the City can do to help residents build richer family lives in Mauldin.
Where will Mauldin’s City Center be located?
The City Center which has been the gleam in every City Council’s eye for almost two decades is envisioned to be the block surrounded by North Main Street, East Butler Road, the railroad tracks (and Murray Drive), and Jenkins Street.
The City owns about half of that land. That includes the land between Jenkins Court and the railroad tracks, which was being used by the City’s Public Works Department It is now mostly sitting idle, in preparation for the City Center construction. The City also owns the land around City Hall and the Mauldin Fire Department’s Headquarters Fire Station.
The City has also purchased several individual pieces of land that had been placed on the market for sale. Rather than have that land developed into more box stores, the City Councils at those times purchased those lots, with the intention that they would be included as part of the City Center.
What is the holdup? Why is there no construction?
- For more than a decade City Councils have tasked the City’s Planning and Development staff with finding potential developers and negotiating with them to bid on the project.
There are some serious impediments that must be overcome for there to be progress.
- Finding would-be contractors who have built sites of this magnitude. Some bidders’ biggest projects were motels or box stores. City Council members are not building experts; experience in building much larger projects by the prospective developer is needed for them to be convinced that a developer might be worth considering.
Finding contractors who have financial backing. Some bidders only offered to engineer the drawings; the City was expected to foot the bill for construction. The City’s annual budget is barely $30 million; it cannot afford a project costing hundreds of millions. Nor does the City want to get into the construction business. Developers will have to put together a plan in which their profit comes from sales and leases.
- Finding a contractor with good references; i.e., other cities which City Council members and staff can visit, to see the results and talk to that city’s staff about their experiences with the contractor.
- Finding contractors who want to do a development in Mauldin. The bigger a business, the more it depends on “market metrics” in its determination of whether to invest money in a particular location. Market metrics are compiled sets of statistics which are intended to show that a particular site would be profitable or not profitable, based on past experiences nationwide. Whether it is just opening a restaurant, or building a City Center, market metrics are predominantly the deciding factor in any decision for construction in Mauldin.
- Mauldin – i.e., its City Council – has only this one chance to do it right. There is no room for mistakes. Something this expensive deserves caution.
Mauldin staff and Council have discussed the City Center project with many contractors. Only in late 2019 did one contractor finally appear to be viable. That was a huge step – the first time Mauldin has reached that milestone for the City Center project. You mostly likely heard all the fanfare.
But even so, until a contract is actually signed, either party might still back out. That’s life.
What about the other businesses still on that block? Will the City buy them too?
The City is not in the real estate business, and does not want to be in the real estate business. Buying a property uses tax money paid by residents and businesses – and it is a poor way to use that tax money.
The goal is for the selected contractor to immediately purchase the City’s properties, returning the money used for the purchases back to the City’s treasury, to be used as intended for normal expenditures.
It is the selected contractor’s responsibility to also negotiate with the current owners of other properties on that block, with the object of agreeing on a “price”. That “price” may include cash, or exchanging another property elsewhere for that property, or agreeing to build a new place for the property owner’s business someplace in the City Center. All options are on the table.
What if they cannot agree on a price? Will the City use eminent domain?
Eminent domain is used only by a government. Eminent domain cannot be used by a contractor, and all negotiations for property sales are between the contractor and the particular property owner.
It is very likely that even attempting to use eminent domain in that way is illegal.
If they cannot agree on a price, will that stop construction of the City Center?
No. There is enough land available for the contractor to build a City Center as envisioned by the City.
Property owners who do not sell, or who set a price which the contractor sees as too high, will simply be excluded from the City Center construction.
What happens next?
The City and a developer have to sign a contract, which includes (1) the sale of the City’s properties to the developer, and (2) the developer’s agreement to promptly begin construction (which is a no-brainer, since he needs to recoup the costs of his land purchases as quickly as possible).
After that, you will see construction begin. Not before.
And then? Stay tuned for articles over the next few months which will focus on related issues, such as:
Won’t a City Center make Mauldin’s traffic congestion worse? What can be done about all the traffic?
How is Mauldin expected to change once the City Center is completed?♥