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Here's What Acadiana Leaders are Learning from Downtown Greenville, South Carolina

GREENVILLE, South Carolina - Acadiana leaders walked through this city's downtown on a bright and windy Sunday afternoon. They walked by shops and restaurants, crossed a pedestrian bridge over waterfalls, and snapped photos of a picturesque park.

Greenville officials call their downtown the heart of the city.

"That's what I look at, what our downtown could and should be," said Anita Begnaud, CEO of Lafayette's Downtown Development Authority. 

In Greenville, it didn't come easy. Councilman-at-large Russell Stall on Sunday told about 70 visitors from Southwest Louisiana about challenges like property acquisition, community push back and waiting years to see true results.

Still, the city has made bold moves like removing a bridge, disrupting traffic, and replacing it with a large park and pedestrian bridge overlooking natural waterfalls.

"Obviously, the city of Greenville is serious about beautiful, dynamic, attractive public infrastructure," Begnaud said. 

"They removed a bridge for cars and put in a pedestrian bridge," she continued. "And they didn't just put in a bridge. They made it architecturally interesting. They went the extra mile."

That's part of "place-making," Stall said. The city has spent decades building its personality, so that visitors feel something when they are in Greenville.

Officials have planned gathering spaces for residents and visitors, building in natural places for people to be — and shop and buy food and so on, providing that return on investment.

"That takes a lot of planning and execution," said Ben Berthelot, president and CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. "From a tourism standpoint, thousands of people can be seen, gathered because of the place."

That's something to take back to Lafayette.

"If we want to reach our fullest potential, we have to continue to invest in our place," Berthelot said.

When it comes to Lafayette's downtown, Berthelot said, there is momentum, with restaurant openings and a project to redevelop the former federal courthouse.

"Sometimes all it takes is one or two projects" to be the catalyst, he said.

In the last five to 10 years, Greenville has gone from a handful of restaurants downtown to more than 100 and from 500 residential units downtown to 5,000, Stall said.

There has been a transformation in the city's downtown, one that many on this trip — organized by One Acadiana — are working toward in Lafayette, including Begnaud.

"They utilized their best asset, the river, and made it the focal point of downtown," Begnaud said. "We need to come together and identify, 'What is our best asset?' and 'How do we utilize it?'"

The Greenville trip is an opportunity for Acadiana business leaders, economic developers, tourism officials and more to glean lessons from other cities.

"That's why trips like this are so great," Berthelot said. "You can see what's possible. Then you implement."

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