FORT MILL — Mayors from across South Carolina gathered in front of Town Hall Thursday as part of a bus tour through Fort Mill to learn about the town’s growth.
Fort Mill Events and Media Coordinator Kimberly Starnes said it was the second day in a row she waited for a bus outside of Town Hall. The prior day, Starnes said it was a group of children coming to Town Hall on a field trip to learn about local government.
The group for the bus tour was made up of mayors already well versed in local government, but coming to learn about Fort Mill’s growth in anticipation of rapid development in their own cities and towns. Fort Mill has more than doubled its footprint through annexations over the past decade or so, and the population has nearly tripled in that span.
Those who attended are part of the Association of South Carolina Mayors, a group created by the Municipal Association of South Carolina for mayors to engage in advocacy for issues, network and share ideas and take part in educational activities.
The tour was lead by Fort Mill Planning Director Joe Cronin, with help from Starnes and Fort Mill Mayor Danny P. Funderburk. The group visited seven locations that Cronin thought best represented Fort Mill’s growth and expansion.
“I asked Joe to put a good tour together so we could show what some of the development has done here, how positive it has been and give them a feel for the residential growth and the commercial growth,” Funderburk said.
The tour showed off locations that best represented downtown redevelopment, economic development, transportation, economic revitalization, residential growth and preservation, through visits to locations like Main Street, the Kingsley Park corporate complex, Walter Elisha Park and the Anne Springs Close Greenway.
The mayors were able to get a preview of Fort Mill’s major transportation expansion as the bus took them through an unfinished road of the Fort Mill Southern Bypass, now being constructed under York County’s Pennies for Progress program.
The tour also visited a less favorable location; a shopping center containing the empty building that was home to the old Food Lion. Cronin explained that the land has been purchased, the plaza will be demolished and that a new economic opportunity will arise there, which he said will be “a significant improvement.” The opportunity Cronin spoke on was a recently announced Walmart Neighborhood Market.
After the tour, the mayors were given a chance to speak to Cronin, Funderburk and Starnes about more specific topics relating to their own cities and towns, which included Blythewood, Simpsonville, Walterboro and Lake City. Henry Jolly, mayor of Gaffney, expressed interest in Fort Mill’s recent Strawberry Festival and looked to it as an example of how to increase the number of attendees at Gaffney’s annual Peach Festival. The Strawberry Festival was voted the best in South Carolina the past two years.
Cronin said speaking to the mayors after the bus tour gave him another opportunity to share information while also learning from the experiences of the other towns, which he said was the goal of the day’s event.
“For visits like this it’s always good to have, whether it’s mayors, managers, planners, whoever it is, coming together and learning from others who are doing it or have already done it,” Cronin said.
“There’s no use reinventing the wheel if you can just go to another community and take lessons from what they’ve done. What we were trying to do was just share some of the lessons that we’ve had and give these mayors a chance to take that back to their hometowns.”
Later in the day, the mayors toured Rock Hill in order to compare the two locations, which are geographically close but are different in terms of development. Rock Hill’s sports tourism was of particular interest to the visiting mayors. Casey Fields, Manager for Municipal Advocacy at the Municipal Association of South Carolina, said that the tours were created to compare the successes and struggles of Rock Hill and Fort Mill in order to help the other mayors apply the successful strategies to their own cities and towns.
“It’s a great way for them to look around and say, ‘I could do that,’ ” Fields said.