Downtown Revitalization Partnerships
Clemson, South Carolina
Prepared by Arzu Yilmaz, City Planner, City of Clemson, South Carolina.
2012 updates by Bret Martin, City Planner, City of Clemson, South Carolina.
Downtown Clemson was once the vibrant cultural center of a college town. As the downtown lost many of the qualities that made it a desirable destination, pedestrian safety was jeopardized along with the aesthetic appeal and charm of the area.
Halloween pedestrian activity on College Avenue.
The City of Clemson is a distinctive small town adjacent to Clemson University. Thousands of students and members of the university faculty and staff visit the City of Clemson daily for shopping, dining and entertainment. In the late 1980s, several of the well-known old brick storefronts of downtown had disappeared under heavy coats of paint and wood and aluminum facades. Crosswalks were faded, worn, and practically non-existent. Citizen surveys indicated concerns with the impression left by the area, especially the bleak appearance coupled with increased vandalism, trash and litter problems. As walking was the primary means of access to downtown restaurants, personal service and retail establishments for both students and visitors, it was important that the downtown environment supported pedestrian activity.
Pedestrian enhancements on College Avenue at Sloan Street include brick pavers, curb ramps and new landscaping.
Recognizing downtown Clemson as a major component of the city’s image, citizens, merchants and local government officials jointly established the Downtown Development Corporation with the mission to improve the downtown business area for businesses, patrons and pedestrians. An Appearance Review Board was established along with performance standards and design guidelines for the downtown area and other major corridors in the city.
As part of the initial efforts, a resource team presented a detailed report outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the downtown business district and the necessary revitalization steps. In general terms, the major recommendations of the report included:
- Improving the physical appearance of downtown, including unification of design and streetscape improvements, providing more green spaces, installing more visible brick surfaced pedestrian crosswalks and alleviating trash and litter.
- Improving pedestrian safety, including mandatory "stop for pedestrian in crosswalk" warning signs, enforcement of existing on-street parking regulations, enforcement of motorist yielding to pedestrians and advancing compliance with accessibility requirements as stipulated in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Identifying a retail mix that meets all existing markets using input from the focus groups, market data and retail market feasibility studies.
- Investigating the possibility of extending the university parking shuttle system route to include stops within the downtown area.
Although it seemed to be an ambitious program, these recommendations had the backing of City officials, the university, and the Chamber of Commerce. The first two phases of improvements took place during 1990 and 1991 and cost approximately $500,000. The City matched a $250,000 grant from the South Carolina Governor's Office with $220,000 in public funds and the remaining $30,000 came from donations by residents, students and alumni. Thirty trees and fourteen outdoor benches were private gifts. In addition, a $2.25 million dollar, low-interest, revolving loan pool was established by the local banks to expedite building renovations in accordance with the development plans that were approved by the Appearance Review Board.
Since then, improvements have expanded beyond the downtown boundaries into the adjacent areas. Projects have included the beautification of the area through the extension of streetscape improvements; realignment of streets; installation of mast-arm traffic signals, decorative pedestrian crossings and street lighting; reconfiguration of on-street parking; overhead utility relocation; and landscaping.
In the early 1990s, a complementary unified entrance to downtown Clemson and the university's campus was created, and City improvements were mirrored on the university property directly across from downtown as an alumni class project. Also during this time, private downtown merchants invested in extensive facade improvements. Moving forward, the City plans to continue to extend streetscape and pedestrian improvements northward along College Avenue away from downtown toward U.S. 123 and the old town site of Calhoun, as directed by a Streetscape Master Plan. A series of zoning/development code modifications have supported these improvements' relationship to redevelopment in Clemson's downtown and continue to advance the pedestrian-friendly urban character momentum established by the prior enhancements.
The City of Clemson was able to identify the need for revitalizing downtown and providing a safe pedestrian environment for local patrons. After the revitalization effort was completed, a reduction in vehicle speed and pedestrian-vehicle conflicts in downtown Clemson was observed, as well as a significant increase in pedestrian safety awareness.
Today downtown is an attractive, safe, and pedestrian-oriented urban space. A healthy mix of clothiers, music stores, bookstores, florists, banks, restaurants and coffee houses provide numerous shopping options, personal services and dining opportunities for residents, students and tourists. The improvements continue to attract and support further investment and harmonious redevelopment pressure in downtown Clemson. The pedestrian improvements support the economic revitalization effort and also increase the safety and comfort of pedestrians in downtown Clemson, SC.
Bret "Bee" Martin, AICP
City of Clemson
Department of Planning and Codes Administration
1250 Tiger Boulevard; Suite 4
Clemson, SC 29631
Phone: (864) 653-2050