October 25, 2017 — For the person looking for a urban retirement on a small scale, it is hard to come up with a better choice than Greenville, South Carolina. It has parks and a downtown that attracts people every day of the week, including Sunday morning. There are plenty of housing opportunities downtown that let you walk to just about anything you might need. There is an ever expanding bike path that runs through the heart of the downtown and 8 miles up the road – through the Furman University campus and on to Travelers Rest, SC. The cultural scene is hectic with frequent festivals, multiple events, and an array of cultural resources.
This fast growing town in northwest South Carolina has 68,000 citizens in the city proper, while the larger MSA area including Spartanburg approaches 1 million. The downtown has been the subject of intense and successful redevelopment efforts. Those have paid off, as the city won Great American Main Street awards from the National Trust for Historical Preservation in 2003 and 2009. The city has a diverse industrial and commercial base with manufacturing plant including Michelin and BMW. It is home to a number of colleges and technical colleges, including Furman University and Bob Jones University. It is host to several minor league sports teams including the Boston Red Sox minor league team, Drive. It is a thriving community for the arts. Downtown Greenville is home to many specialty shops and boutiques.
What really makes Greenville special
We had the good fortune to visit this fair city earlier this week with relatives and friends who live here. Going in we knew we were going to like it, but it was still a happy case to experience the reality better than the expectation. Although we had been in its suburbs many times before, which are very nice, the downtown was a most pleasant surprise.
After driving into town we parked at our friend’s house in a beautiful neighborhood of single family and town homes. Then we walked about a block and entered Falls Park on the Reedy, a large regional park in the West End with gardens and several waterfalls.
The $15.0 million park showcasing the falls is home to the Liberty Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge overlooking the falls.
What is really most remarkable is that as you walk along the path above the falls you emerge into the heart of a $75 million public-private development, Riverplace, directly across Main Street. There is dining, shops, entertainment, and abundant and inexpensive above ground parking. We were there on a Sunday morning and the streets were busy with families and couples out for an adventure. It is certainly the rare urban downtown that can claim pedestrian traffic on a Sunday morning, but Greenville does it with its Main Street. We were blown away.
Some of the attractions downtown include the Peace Center, a performing arts center that includes a concert hall with 2,100 seats and a theater seating 400. The Greenville Zoo is a popular downtown attraction – from there the park offers continued access to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which goes on to Travelers Rest.
Other cultural and sports venues in the area include the multi-purpose 5,000 seat Timmons Arena at Furman University, Upcountry History Museum, the TD Convention Center, and the Bon Secour Wellness Arena. Fluor Field at the West End is home of the Greenville Drive baseball team, the Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The stadium has many of the features of Fenway Park, including a representation of Fenway’s fabled Green Monster.
What to do
The city has a constant stream of festivals and fun events. Some of those include Euphoria Greenville, an annual three-day culinary event held in the Wyche Pavilion at Larkin’s on the River. Art in the Park is another. Greenville County Museum of Art specializes in American art. Fall for Greenville is a three-day music and food street festival held each fall. Artisphere is a three-day art festival held in the spring. For sports there is Class A minor league baseball with the Drive, and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL. The Haywood Mall is a major mall in the area.
Where to live
For the urban experience there are plenty of places to live downtown or within walking distance – from single family to condo homes. The Zillow Home Value Index is at the national median of about $200,000. Mills Mill converted into loft condominiums. Our friends live in a small townhome development that is peaceful and charming, yet hard by the Falls at Reedy River Park. There are nice apartments above many of the downtown stores. Outside of town there are many Greenville active adult and 55+ communities, if that is what you are looking for.
Other aspects – crime, healthcare, transportation
Crime is higher than the US average but has been dropping over the last ten years, now a third less than in 2000, while the population in the area has been constantly growing.
The Greenville-Spartansburg Airport has good connections and service. There is an Amtrak service. People use Uber here, and there are bus routes. But your car, bike, or feet will be your primary methods of getting around.There is plenty of rush hour traffic on Interstate 385 and Interstate 85. Woodruff Road can be brutal, especially on the weekend as this road is a major retail corridor. The city is conveniently located half way between Atlanta GA and Charlotte NC (about a hundred miles in either direction). The mountains are about an hour away and the coast is about 3.5 hours away.
Medical Care is high quality and ample. Greenville has two main health systems, the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System and the Greenville Health System.
Greenville is in the South in a very red state. If your political leanings are conservative, you will fit right in. If you move here from a blue state and are liberally oriented, you will be in for some adjustments. That has certainly been the case for our friends, who are very happy here but feel like they are in the minority. If you run into a Democrat in the Palmetto State, chances are good that will happen in Greenville.
Greenville is, in our view, the perfect example of a place that offers an ideal urban environment on a manageable scale. You can live, shop, walk or bike downtown. It has tremendous parks and a beautiful, busy downtown There are an amazing array of cultural and sports venues. If these describe what you are looking for a place to retire, come on down and check it out!
Comments? Is this the kind of retirement you are looking for. Have you lived in Greenville and have some experiences you could share? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.