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The transformation continues

Expect world-class culture, superb shopping, and a flavorful dining sceneon Main Street in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. How happenin' is it? The American Planning Association named it one of the Top 10 Great Streets in America last year--a real coup when you consider that it's gone from downtrodden to distinguished in just 25 years.

The transformation began with a strategic plan to create anchors and fill in the spaces between. The opening of the Hyatt Regency in 1982 established a northern Main Street Anchor, and the 1990 opening of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts brought people farther south. When local restaurateur Carl Sobocinski opened Soby's restaurant on Main in the late '90s, and the renovated Westin Poinsett opened across the street in 2000, downtown Greenville became the place to see and be seen. In the past decade, locally owned shops, bars, and restaurants have filled in the gaps. Downtown's diminutive size (about 15 blocks) makes it easy to walk to most hot spots, or take the free trolley running along Main Street.

The Westin's arrival sparked a flurry of development in the city's West End district at the southern end of Main Street. Falls Park on the Reedy is the centerpiece of development here, with two amphitheaters featuring plenty of event space (and a full calendar) amid some 30 acres flanking the Reedy River. A curved pedestrian span called Liberty Bridge provides views of the park and waterfalls, and a minor league baseball team, the Greenville Drive (a nod to local automotive companies like BMW and MIchelin), plays at Fluor Field at the West End. A few blocks away lies RiverPlace, a cluster of sleek condos, trendy shops (Plaza Suite), hip restaurants (The Lazy Goat and High Cotton), artists' galleries and studios, and a recently opened Hampton Inn.

"Our secret is attention to the pedestrian experience--the scale of the buildings, the mix of residential and retail, and surprising art features," says Greenville Mayor Knox White. Place a beautiful park with a dramatic waterfall and pedestrian suspension bridge in the middle of it all and you have an urban space like none other."

The downtown transformation continues: Clemson University moved its MBA program downtown last January into a building overlooking the Reedy, Michelin has a downtown storefront and a development office, and BMW is known for its community participation and event sponsorship, such as the BMW Charity Pro-Am (May 13-16). The celebrity golf tournament brings big names like Darius Rucker and Kevin Costner to town and contributes to Upstate charities. It's this high level of corporate support that allows downtown Greenville to thrive.

"My family chose to move to Greenville two years ago, and the clincher was downtown," says Kym Petrie, executive vice president, Downtown Greeenville Development Initiative, an organization that works to bring businesses downtown. "When you first set foot in the area, its shocking. You wonder why you haven't heard of this amazing place before. So cosmopolitan and chic."

The Arts

A variety of cultural attractions add to downtown's chic vibe.

"One of the major factors in the revitalization of downtown Greenville is the diversity and depth of the city's outstanding arts community," says Alan Ethridge, executive director, of the Metropolitan Arts Council, which estimates that the arts have an annual economic impact of nearly $20 million.

Four museums make up the campus at Heritage Green, an arts complex: The Greenville County Museum of Art (home to the South's most important collection of works by Andrew Wyeth); The Museum and Gallery at Heritage Green (an outpost of Bob Jones University's renowned collection of Italian paintings); The Upcountry History Museum (check out the impressive oral history program); and the recently opened Children's Museum of the Upstate, where an innovative multistory climbing structure draws rave reviews from kids (and parents, too).

Greenville is also home to four of the region's seven theaters: Greenville's Little Theatre, Centre Stage, the Warehouse Theatre, and South Carolina Children's Theatre. Big-name acts like Brad Paisley and Nickelback fill seats at the Bi-Lo Center on the northern edge of downtown.

Perhaps the No.1 arts venue, the Peace Center hosts first-run Broadway shows (Wicked just left town, and Spring Awakening plays this month), top musicians (Chris Botti, John Legend, and Yo-Yo Ma have performed here), and other groups including the South Carolina Children's Theatre, two ballet companies, and the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, whose conductor and music director Edward Tchivzhel first came to Greenville from Russia in 1991. "This community enthusiastically embraces the arts," Tchivzhel says. "There are so many creative people here."

Emerging artists find a home at The South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. This public residential high school overlooks Falls Park, and attracts artists from across the state to study in one of five disciplines (including creative writing and visual arts).

The Scene

An increase in downtown living in the late '90s meant an increase in foot traffic--gone are the days when Main Street turned into a ghost town after 5p.m. Taryn Scher, a local public relations expert, moved to Greenville from New York three years ago. "This city has all the wonderful offerings of a major metropolitan region and none of the downsides that usually come with a major city," Scher says.

These offerings include a hip live-music scene. Head to the Brown Street Club for live jazz and blues nearly every night of the week. At The Handlebar, a variety of musicians take the stage from Grammy winners to local favorites. Enjoy dinner and a show at Smiley' Acoustic Cafe which hosts live music every night except Sunday.

Downtown is also the setting for about 150 events every year, including the Downtown Alive concert series and the Moonlight Movie series. If you love to eat--and who doesn't?--there's an extra helping for food and wine events, such as January's fine-wine auction An Affair with Flair; Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation (May 2); food/wine/music fest Euphoria (Sept 24-26); and St. Francis Fall for Greenville--A Taste of Our Town (Oct. 8-10).

The dining scene is more than just impressive foodie fests. Downtown's culinary options have boomed in recent years, a complete shift from fast-food fixes to a large number of diverse restaurants and chefs that rival those in major cities. This tasty transformation can be traced to the 1997 opening of Soby's, housed in a century-old building on Main Street. Following Soby's success, other restaurants landed on the downtown menu. Notable eateries include Larkin's on the River (steak and seafood); Devereaux's (contemporary American cuisine); American Grocery Restaurant (using local and organic ingredients); and Liberty Tap Room (adjacent to the baseball stadium).

"The culinary history of the area is invariably rich and a few pioneering restaurateurs have turned Greenville into a true culinary destination," says Food Network star and Greenville native Tyler Florence. "it never ceases to amaze me how downtown has become a real destination."