on October 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Clemson’s success unusual

When it comes to small cities, few can say they’ve enjoyed the success that Clemson has through the years.

The city enjoys a strong relationship with Clemson University (CU), a fact displayed by its recently being named by The Princeton Review as the Top Town-Gown Community in the nation, as well as other agencies that fall under the university banner. But the fact that new construction has been or is taking place in the midst of the worst recession in recent memory is a testament to Clemson’s ability to not only survive, but also thrive, during times of economic peril.

“What’s important to note is that a lot of towns our size are struggling to maintain, and a lot of things don’t happen,” said Mayor Larry Abernathy, who has served as mayor since 1976 and as a City Council member prior to that. “But since we’re an education-driven city, we’re somewhat recession-proof. Kids keep coming to Clemson University and keep having dollars to spend, and we certainly benefit from that.”

That relationship with CU has certainly borne much fruit through the years, including the implementation of Clemson Area Transit Service (CAT) in 1996 and its subsequent growth into Central, Pendleton, Anderson and, most recently, Seneca; the contract with the Clemson University Fire Department for fire service and the establishment of the International Town-Gown Association, headquartered at CU, in 2008.

But Abernathy said the city’s relationship with the university is also due to what he describes as “a visionary City Council.”

“We have had a long history of councils that were visionary and staff people, like (City Administrator) Rick (Cotton), who were visually able to look 5, 10, 15, 20 years into the future and determine things that, while they may not be popular at the time, would pay off for us in grand fashion. And, they have,” Abernathy said.

Cotton said the city’s ability to work with the CU Fire Department laid the groundwork for other city-university partnerships.

“If the city’s partnership with the Clemson University Fire Department had not worked, our partnership with CAT would not have worked in 1996,” Cotton said. “We also recently partnered with the university to purchase curtains for Littlejohn Coliseum. The payoff with the university is that they can get great events now that they couldn’t get before and people come to these events, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and leave some of their money when they go home.”

Economic development is another key to the success enjoyed by the city of Clemson. While the recession has clamped down on a number of construction and development efforts, Clemson has witnessed the opening of Walgreens, Chick-fil-A and the Holiday Inn Express in recent months, as well as the upcoming Oct. 8 opening of Courtyard by Marriott. But city officials say there is more to come.

For example, the Freedom Drive redevelopment commercial project — which will be anchored by Publix — is nearing final plan approval and slated to begin construction either later this year or in early 2010; Lowe’s Home Improvement remains under construction; Patrick Square has four new homes nearing completion and others ready for startup; and new downtown restaurants that include Brioso pasta, Shish-Ka-Bobs fast food, El Jimador Mexican Restaurant and the remodeling of the old Mo Joes/Baskin Robbins into a new, larger restaurant.

When it comes to infrastructure, the city will also realize a longtime goal next year when the S.C. 133 (College Avenue) road widening and bridge replacement project officially begins. The project, which involves the removal of the existing railroad bridge and installation of a temporary bridge for trains to use and an additional track or “fast track” for future light rail capabilities, will greatly improve traffic flow at the intersection of S.C. 133 and U.S. 76/123 (Tiger Boulevard).

“This is a city of, probably in the next census — 14,000 to 15,000, with another 17,000 students over here (Clemson University), and it’s kind of insane — in my mind at least — for a city this size to have only one way to get across the railroad track,” Abernathy said.

Abernathy said the city is also working feverishly to address various eyesores. Those include the former Lake Hartwell Inn on U.S. Highway 123 entering Clemson, the Astro Triple movie theatre that has sat vacant since its closing in August 2008 and the Tower Place condos project that produced a building that was never occupied.

“There’re a few structures left that are still eyesores, but there’s not much ugly left in Clemson, not much at all,” Abernathy said.

Though pleased with the economic development that has already taken place, city officials refuse to sit still. Plans for a new independent/assisted living center on S.C. Highway 93 and Cambridge Drive are progressing, and Abernathy said he remains hopeful that some type of medical facility can become a reality in the near future. Also on the mayor’s wish list is the relocation of the post office — whose College Avenue location creates traffic and safety concerns, more development of the lower end of downtown and a continued emphasis on making the city more environmentally friendly, or “green.”

In addition, the expansion of Clemson City Hall and its parking lot area, which will include 44 additional spaces to go with its existing 40, is presently taking place, and construction bids will be advertised Oct. 19, a bid opening scheduled for Nov. 20 and a contract will be awarded Dec. 7 for construction of the new CAT office on West Lane starting in January.

“We talked about that (City Hall expansion) for a long, long time,” Abernathy said. “One of the great things about being involved in city government as long as I have is that things that were pipe dreams 15-20 years ago are now reality. That’s one of the most satisfying things in the world.”

Clemson isn’t just about economic development, but also about serving others. The city’s assistance in seeing a new Clemson Community Care (CCC) facility open on U.S. Highway 76 more than five years ago and the relocation of the Clemson Child Development Center to the Calhoun Bridge Center (formerly known as the Morrison Annex) three years ago immediately come to mind.

“We appreciate our relationship with the city so much,” said Child Development Center Executive Director Karen Ellers. “Because of a grant received by the city five years ago, we have our building from which we have been able to expand our services to the community. The city is responsive to the needs we have as an agency, including maintenance and assistance with pick ups, and the departments we work with are exceptionally receptive and helpful to our client needs.”

Ellers named the city’s water department and municipal court as a couple of examples of how Clemson has worked with CCC clients with financial needs through the years. But Abernathy said the citizens that make up the city also deserve credit.

“We are fortunate enough in this town and so blessed that people are willing to step forward to work really hard to make it work,” Abernathy said. “After all, The Clemson Free Clinic (which serves individuals below the poverty line with no insurance and uses a portion of the space at CCC) was once a pipe dream.

“If you have a decent idea and float it out to the community, they’ll do it.”

With the present and future economic growth of Clemson, its proximity to Clemson University, the 11 parks that exist in the city, recent landscaping led by the city’s full-time horticulturist Tim Johnson and the ability to assist not-for-profit organizations, it’s no wonder the city was named one of the Top 10 retirement destinations in the country by “Where to Retire” magazine in 2006. But Abernathy said visitors also have kind words to say.

“I get two-three e-mails a week from people who have been to an event or just passing through and they say ‘Mayor, your town is gorgeous, it is beautiful’,” he said.

Next: The city’s relationship with the town of Central that resulted in the Indoor Rec Center and other partnership opportunities.