SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – A portion of West Main Street in downtown Spartanburg will remain closed to vehicles for at least the next two years.
Spartanburg City Council voted unanimously Monday to keep the temporary road closure in place between Wall Street and South Church Street in Morgan Square.
West Main Street has been closed to vehicle traffic since May 2020. The road was initially closed to accommodate outdoor seating for restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic.
City council has voted to keep it closed over the past two years. Now, a committee made up of community members, stakeholders, and more, will be working behind the scenes.
Last month, council approved the creation of the Morgan Square Redevelopment Committee to help decide the future of the square.
“Staff has worked with some partners to create a committee of community members and stakeholders, as well as a design firm, to then get together, go through a public input process and find out what sort of recommendations we’ll have for Council to look at for permanent changes to the square,” said Christopher George, Communications and Marketing Manager for the City of Spartanburg.
“They’ll be trying to decide the scope of changes to the Square. That could be something more minor–you know maybe there’s some tweaking at the margins. Maybe take out some of the fencing around and things like that, which might be a bit of a smaller redesign,” George explained. “They may end up recommending something more extensive, which might be more expensive. It might involve more significant changes.”
“It’s really kind of up in the air,” George said.
At the start of the discussion on Monday night, some council members thought they were voting on a final decision.
“I think we need to like make a decision. I’m just in favor of saying, you know what, the square is going to be closed and the idea of the committee is just to figure out what the square will look like,” said Erica Brown, Spartanburg City Council, District 6.
“While two years is a long time, I’m very hopeful that this committee can work much faster than two. I’ve been very frustrated with how slow this whole process has been,” said Meghan Smith, Spartanburg City Council, District 1.
“I personally would rather see tonight be a permanent vote,” Smith said. “I think when there’s uncertainty around the finality of this decision, I think that’s what brings anxiety amongst some of the businesses, owners and stakeholders.”
The committee will hear from the community and give their recommendations to council for a more permanent plan.
The lack of a permanent solution has caused debate among business owners in downtown Spartanburg with some wanting the road to reopen while others prefer the area remain closed to cars.
More than two dozen businesses signed a petition in 2021 asking the city to reopen the street.
One business owner said her business and some others, have struggled since the road was closed.
“Our business revenue this summer has trailed last year’s numbers. As many of our customers tell us they just find it too much trouble navigating downtown,” said Stacey Johnson, one of the owners of Market on Main.
Some council members said there has been progress in that area since the pandemic–including an increase in foot traffic.
Johnson said businesses also participated in a survey created by another business owner.
“44 downtown businesses were polled on or within one block of the square. The results were emailed to each of you. And for me they were eye opening,” Johnson said. “63 percent said the street closure has had negative impact on their businesses.”
Christopher George said, no matter what, the committee is looking at plan that will accommodate everyone, including those with disabilities.
“We would want to make sure that people with mobility issues could move through that pedestrian area and we’re very sensitive to that kind of thing,” George said. “Obviously we would lose some parking spaces. There are only one or two in that section that are handicap spaces and we already previously replaced those with some new handicap parking spaces around the square.”
“Any design that the committee recommends, and that the professionals come up with, would certainly take into account people’s mobility issues,” George said.
Whatever happens in the future, some people said they hope it happens quickly.
“I think if we continue to string people along, as you said, you’re going to leave them filled with anxiety. As soon as we can reach a decision, and I hope once the 24 months are up, that we can all make a decision as to what is going to be done permanently, because it’s stressful when you don’t know,” said Ruth Littlejohn, Spartanburg City Council District 3.
“With uncertainty and sort of the back and forth, it also prohibits businesses to kind of figure out a long-term plan,” Brown said.
George said the committee’s work could take between six to nine months. He said there will be many public input sessions throughout the process.