It’s No Secret: Fountain Inn is on the MoveNov 03, 2022 12:11PM ● By John C. Stevenson
Shawn M. Bell describes Fountain Inn’s current situation very simply: “The secret is out.”
Bell, the Fountain Inn city administrator of five years, has considerable evidence to back up his statement: The city’s population has grown by almost 6 percent this century, to almost 11,000 residents; there’s a new Fountain Inn High School to help develop the city’s presence separate from nearby Simpsonville; and new development is facilitating a boom in industry that is driving a demand for industrial parks and added infrastructure.
Bell says the challenge facing city leaders now is to help the city grow without losing the small-town charm he says is so vital to Fountain Inn’s identity.
“Previous mayors and council members and staff members have done a great job in Fountain Inn, making this a desirable place to live, to open up a business. And when you do that, people are going to want to come here,” he said. “So our primary mission is, how do we facilitate this population growth while still maintaining our small-town charm.”
The city, which is located at the southernmost tip of Greenville County and actually spills across the border into northern Laurens County, is currently home to several development projects that promise to help renew the city’s Main Street area and draw new businesses and residents to the city, even while officials race to create a comprehensive plan that addresses the surprising amount of growth.
“Growth is the No. 1 topic we have to wrestle with in this city,” said G.P. McLeer, Fountain Inn’s mayor.
Growth is certainly on the minds of Fountain Inn’s residents, according to Marnie Schwartz-Hanley, Fountain Inn Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
“People are very concerned about growth, and I try to reassure them that we’ve gone through these growth spurts before,” she said. “When I moved here in the 1980s, we didn’t have BMW. That has really changed the landscape of the Upstate and brought a lot of other Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, brought a lot of talent to the Upstate.”
New plan in the works
Guiding the city is a Master Plan that was adopted in 2017, but which Bell said is already outdated.
“That 2017 plan was adopted prior to Fountain Inn having an in-house planning staff,” Bell explained. “And really, it was (adopted) before the growth and everything really went bananas here in Fountain Inn. The (plan’s) aggressive population forecasts – we’ve already surpassed those. A lot of the top-10 next goals, next steps – we’ve already completed those.”
As a result, Bell said that rather than update the 2017 plan five years after it was adopted, the city is beginning the process of creating a new comprehensive plan, which he said is “really going to help lead the future vision.” He predicted the process would be completed in a year to 18 months.
In the meantime, the city and private developers are also moving ahead with a number of projects that will seemingly ensure the city’s continued growth. When it comes to the city’s center, Bell touted Fountain Inn’s inclusion in the national Main Street Program.
“Our primary mission is, ‘How do we facilitate this population growth while still maintaining our small-town charm that drew people here in the first place?’” Bell said. “We believe the best way to do that is to protect, preserve, and enhance our downtown. That was really the goal of applying to be in the Main Street Program, and we did that and got accepted and it started in January. Already, just since Jan. 1, we’ve seen over $760,000 in private investment in our downtown.”
Bell said the city plans to expand the downtown “boundaries” farther south and southwest, and wants to draw new residents to the downtown area so “our local downtown merchants aren’t dependent on tourists,” despite, he said, drawing from 50,000-80,000 downtown visitors per month.
Bell said that two new projects, Woodside Village and the flour mill, will help drive the downtown expansion.
“We have an existing mill village, and those homes are being renovated and they’re selling for record prices,” he said. “But then there are a few blocks in between our mill village and our downtown that really need to be redeveloped, and that’s what these two projects will hopefully be able to do.”
Woodside Mills (also referred to as Woodside Village) is a project from Greenville-based Blackstock Development. According to presentations made to the city, Blackstock promises to pump $20 million into the project, which when completed will include approximately 38 residential lots, 135 apartment homes, and “commercial or flex-type space,” according to Seth Henry, a principal with Blackstock Development.
Both Henry and Bell noted the property’s proximity to a number of downtown features, including the Emanuel Sullivan Sports Complex and the Fountain Inn Activities and Senior Center, as well as the range of special events held in the city’s downtown, including the Mac Arnold Corn Bread and Collard Greens Blues Festival, the Fountain Inn Farmers Market, and the Juneteenth Soul Food Festival.
Henry pointed out the importance of Fountain Inn’s location to the city’s continued growth.
“In Greenville County, on that side of the county you’ve really only got one way to go, and that ends up being Fountain Inn,” he said. “It certainly is a growth market, a nice little bedroom community there in Fountain Inn.”
Henry added that the city’s goals for the project dovetailed nicely with Blackstock’s own plans. He said city leaders “didn’t just want an apartment complex there, they wanted really a number of different asset classes and use types,” which led to the current plans.
“I think our vision for the property lined up very well with what the city’s vision was, and therefore it was a really good partnership.”
The Mill at Fountain Inn
Just a block away from the Woodside Village project (a “walkable” distance, according to Henry), three sheet-metal buildings that once comprised a flour mill are being redeveloped into The Mill at Fountain Inn, a venue that developers hope will bring new businesses, including a brewery, to the city’s expanding downtown business district.
“We’ve had a number of conversations with (Bryan Beal, co-owner and developer of B&B Real Estate Co., which is developing the Mill project); obviously, he’s excited about more residents being there when (the Woodside Mill) project is complete, and so really all of these things complement themselves,” Henry said. “People don’t usually want to live places where there’s not readily available activities, and folks who want to put in activities want to be around denser populations.”
When asked, Beal said he’s been excited about the flour mill project in Fountain Inn since he first laid eyes on the property.
“It’s been 18 months, so it’s been a long time coming,” Beal recalled recently. “I actually got introduced to Shawn (Bell) to talk about some opportunities down in Fountain Inn, one of which was the Woodside Mill. So I went down to meet Shawn and he gave me an entire tour of Fountain Inn. The flour mill was actually the last site we drove by, and I saw a for-sale sign out there and I asked him to stop, and we got out and I said, ‘Tell me about this.’”
Beal was so enamored with the property, which includes three buildings, that he contacted the brokers that very day and soon had the property under contract.
With sights set on a fall 2022 groundbreaking, Beal said the goal is to create a fun destination for locals inside and outside of the city limits.
“What our goal was from the start was to create something of value for the local community because they’ve been so great to us – everybody’s been so supportive of the project, we want to create sort of a destination for the people of Fountain Inn and for the surrounding areas as well. I want to create something unique and cool.”
Currently, the plans call for the venue to include a brewery, an open green space that could be used for functions such as outdoor movie nights, and a “food-hall concept” that could be home to as many as six restaurants, Beal said.
“We hope that it kind of helps put Fountain Inn on the map,” he continued. “Obviously, Fountain Inn’s growing so quickly and they’ve got so many cool things in the pipeline going on down there, we’re just excited to be a part of that.”