Not a dime of city tax money is going into construction of Unity Park.
The 60-acre park on Greenville’s West Side is being built with $26 million of tourism-generated taxes. Another $5 million from storm water funds is being used to restore the Reedy River. And $2.3 million in utility line burial money will be used to put power lines underground. The rest of the money needed for the initial $40 million first phase of the park will come from private donations and grants.
In other words, most of the money to build Unity Park is coming from the tourists who visit Greenville and enjoy its many amenities.
Downtown visitors generate nearly $12 million each year in hospitality taxes. That amount has grown significantly in recent years and is double what it was just 10 years ago. That growth is because of attractions like Falls Park and, soon, Unity Park. Downtown’s extraordinary restaurants and hotels, shops, galleries and museums draw more visitors wanting to enjoy what Greenville has to offer. And they’re helping to make it better with every hotel room booking, restaurant check and bar tab.
Could that money be spent elsewhere? In short, no. By law, hospitality tax revenue can only be spent on tourism-related projects – like parks. In Greenville, hospitality taxes fund improvements to the Greenville Zoo, SC Children’s Theater, Swamp Rabbit Trail and, at some point, perhaps help to build a downtown convention center. The park isn’t diverting any money from those other priorities and there will be another $1.6 million in annual hospitality tax funds available when the bonds to build Falls Park are paid off in June 2022.
Because Unity Park isn’t using general fund money – money generated from property taxes and business licenses – those funds continue to be invested in the city’s biggest needs and priorities, like affordable housing, transportation, public safety and neighborhoods.
The city has contributed $3.5 million to the Greenville Housing Fund and earmarked another $5.5 million over the next five years. In the coming year, the city will spend $1.2 million for public transportation – or more than double what it spent just five years ago.
The reality is that every dollar spent on Unity Park is an investment in a part of Greenville that has been historically overlooked. Building Unity Park is just one way the city is guiding equitable development in this side of town through an intertwined set of complimentary initiatives focusing on the quality of water and soil, the health of the environment, access to the river and the connectivity of the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
Unity Park will attract more visitors spending money in Greenville’s hotels and restaurants and generating more hospital tax revenue. It will attract more investment to Greenville bringing businesses and creating jobs. Those businesses pay taxes, as do the people they hire. One only has to look to Falls Park to see how that $13 million investment generated $100 million in new development along the banks of the Reedy and across the West End.
To be sure, the city’s investment in Unity Park will continue long after the park opens. Keeping Unity Park clean and safe will take ongoing spending. The city has a plan for that, just as it has a plan for keeping Falls Park looking its best. Unity Park maintenance costs, including a full-time staff, are being built into the city’s annual budget. Just like other city parks, a small number of amenities like reserving picnic shelters in advance will carry a small fee. But the park, as whole, will be free to use.
In the end, Unity Park will pay for itself. But more importantly, Unity Park will preserve a 60-acre patch of ground that lies within the flood plain for generations of residents and visitors to enjoy. At its core, this park represents our community’s understanding that growth driven by our successes must be balanced with green space. Cities around the country are learning too late that opportunities to create places like Unity Park are fleeting.