Spartanburg City Council heard an update on plans to enhance Morgan Square at their City Council meeting on Monday, their last meeting of 2023. City Manager Chris Story said he anticipates a phased construction for the project, with the City planning to fund a $15 million renovation of the area comprising Morgan Square’s current footprint and the adjoining sections of W Main and Dunbar streets as the first part of the project.
Development of the Morgan Square plan was guided by a select steering committee of local leaders, downtown stakeholders, and area residents, representing the culmination of nine months of sustained public outreach and engagement. Enhancements envisioned by the plan include permanently pedestrianizing the sections of W Main and Dunbar streets along the square, creating festival streets that will both increase the functional size of Morgan Square and create a cohesive feel across the entire space. Additionally, an enlarged performance lawn at the square's eastern end would have adjacent public restrooms and a staffed visitor center, and a new stage orientation would allow upwards of 800 audience members to enjoy performances.
Other highlights include lounging terraces, bench swings, an outdoor dining zone for adjacent restaurants, a 70 percent increase in Morgan Square's total green space, and potentially a programmable water feature.
Story laid out additional phases for the spaces adjacent to Morgan Square’s current footprint as well. Under the proposal, the area of W Main St. between Spring St. and Daniel Morgan Ave. would see its curb line moved to better align with Morgan Square, creating a more cohesive line of building frontage for new developments planned for the block currently housing the Spartanburg Herald-Journal building and the adjacent parking lot and greenspace. Facilitating that curb line shift would necessitate removing the clock tower currently occupying the median at the intersection of W Main and Spring streets and would create more angled parking adjacent to the square.
Additionally, the City has been in discussion with SCDOT about the possibility of changing the surface of N Church St. to better match the Morgan Square pedestrian space, according to Story. Along with creating a new protective median in the former turning lane into Morgan Square that would no longer be needed, the surface change would serve as a signal to motorists to slow down as they enter an area of increased pedestrian activity.
The City Manager said he anticipates beginning discussions to launch a private capital campaign to fund the additional phases of Morgan Square’s enhancement, and he plans to big forward a formal proposal to fund the City’s portion of the square’s redesign in spring of next year, likely relying heavily on City Hospitality Tax revenue to fund the project.
Also at Monday’s meeting, Council heard an overview of how the City’s federal American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding allocated for affordable housing support will be spent from Neighborhood Services Director Martin Livingston.
The spending plan previously approved by City Council calls for dedicating a total of $2.5 million of the City’s approximately $14 million ARPA funding allocation on affordable housing. Around $1.25 million of that would be spent on a strategy to create affordable more rental units within the city. Livingston said that the City would soon issue a request for proposals to solicit development options for affordable rental housing.
Under the plan, potential developers will have the option to propose projects on available city lots as well as privately owned properties, with funding used to assist rental developments for families with incomes between 60-120 percent of area median income. The City will also leverage its allocation of Federal HOME ARP funding to assist with developments that serve the homeless and families below 60 percent of area median income (follow this link to view a breakdown of area median income for the Spartanburg metro area).
The city will partner with a local Community Development Financial Institution—Community Works Carolina—to deploy the funds and provide financial management. Livingston said the City’s hope is that developments will then repay the ARPA funds to create a revolving pool of funds for long-term programs that continue to generate affordable rental housing for residents.
The remaining $1.25 million will be dedicated to homeownership strategies, with $750,000 dedicated to assisting developers construct affordable single-family homes and deferrable amortized 20-year loans for qualified first-time homebuyers between 60-80 percent of area median income. The remaining $500,000 will be allocated for an owner-occupied home repair strategy that will assist families below 100 percent of area median income, along with elderly and disabled homeowners, with critical home repairs to allow and encourage them to remain in their homes. The city will issue a request for proposals for organizations that provide owner-occupied repairs citywide to provide the necessary work, according to Livingston.
For more from Monday’s City Council meeting see the full video at this link.