Small Businesses, Local Economies Reap the Benefits of Active Communities
Business is booming in many South Carolina towns and cities thanks to local infrastructure projects that have made communities more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. Ten municipalities, featured in a new report released today by Eat Smart Move More South Carolina, have noted millions of dollars in returns on investments, not to mention more active citizens. In Stronger Economies Through Active Communities: The Economic Impact of Walkable, Bikeable Communities in South Carolina, small business and municipal leaders are seeing large returns on investments in health.
In one such case, the cities of Easley and Pickens jointly built a 7.5-mile multi-use, paved rail trail, called the Doodle Trail, to provide citizens with a safe place to be active. Since its completion in 2015, both cities have experienced business growth, and Pickens’ hospitality tax revenues grew 12%. Property values near the trail are also on the rise.
“The Doodle Trail in Easley supports our business,” said Cindy Maxey, owner of Upcountry Outdoors, LLC. “Our bike shop would not have opened if it had not been for the trail.”
According to Pickens Mayor David Owens, the Doodle Trail meets all of their needs. “Our residents needed to be active and healthy, and we also wanted to bring people into Pickens to visit our community. We just needed a place to do all that.”
Many small businesses in the featured communities are experiencing economic growth, and municipalities have seen increased property values, more private investments, and a rise in tourism. Importantly, citizens also are using these resources to lead more active lives.
- The 6.5-mile Spanish Moss Trail, which links the City of Beaufort to Port Royal, has become a popular attraction for tourists and residents, serving 36,500 people in 2015. The city advertises the trail in its marketing campaigns, and local hotels lend bikes to guests for use on the trail. The local outfitters store has also seen an increase in sales.
- Beginning in 2005, Charleston-area leaders and advocates designed a 32-mile pedestrian and bike route called Battery2Beach that connects the Charleston Battery to nearby beaches. A 2011 cost-benefit analysis determined that the route would generate $42 million annually by drawing more tourists.
- Through a series of tax incentives and private investments, the City of Columbia has revitalized Main Street, improving sidewalks, landscaping, and adding decorative lighting and signage. Countless new restaurants and businesses have opened, drawing many pedestrians and cyclists.
- After a $3.5 million investment in street and sidewalk repairs to revitalize downtown and connect neighborhoods to trails and parks, the City of Florence has become a hot spot for private development and new business growth. Property values have nearly tripled, and rents downtown are on the rise.
- Greenville County constructed the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 21-mile rail trail that stretches from Travelers Rest to Greenville. The trail draws more than 500,000 visitors each year and generates $6.7 million in tourism-based revenue. Both Greenville and Travelers Rest have seen many new businesses open that are supported by trail users, and existing businesses have seen increases in sales/revenue up to 85%.
- The City of Hartsville invested $2.8 million in sidewalk repairs along College Avenue, a corridor that connects Coker College to the downtown area, and in a pocket park at Mantissa Alley. The sidewalk improvements, which are still underway, are expected to foster new business growth by increasing foot traffic downtown, and the pocket park has already attracted two new shops.
- Through a public-private partnership, the City of Rock Hill created several public recreation venues at a mixed-use development along the Catawba River. Among them are the Piedmont Medical Center Trail, which draws an average 12,000 visitors each month, and two Olympic-caliber cycling facilities. One 3-day event in 2016 created approximately $2.5 million in direct economic impact from hotel stays, restaurant sales and other purchases.
- The City of Spartanburg partnered with Partners for Active Living (PAL) to widen sidewalks, install bike lanes and extend existing trails. PAL also created the state’s first bike-share systems, including BCycle. The city has already seen significant economic benefits, including many new downtown businesses. Approximately 6,500 BCycle riders have made over 11,000 trips around the city since 2011.
- The City of Walterboro is in the process of renovating the connector loop to I-95, which will include sidewalks, bike lanes, street lamps and decorative lighting. The loop is designed to draw tourists from the highway to Walterboro’s attractions, including the Great Swamp Sanctuary, a popular destination for walkers, cyclists and school groups. With as many as 85,000 motorists using I-95 on busy days, Walterboro stands to benefit significantly from increased tourism as a result of this project.
Many other communities across South Carolina have had success in creating built environments that promote active lifestyles, and in doing so have seen economic and fiscal benefits. The ten communities highlighted in this report range in size, region, and demographics, and their efforts can serve as models of success for other communities in the state. To learn more about what South Carolina communities are doing to promote healthy, active lifestyles, visit www.esmmsc.org.
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