City Center: A New Beginning for Greenwood

Writer / Tia Nielsen
Photographer / Rachel Davey

Vision for a brighter future has always been the bedrock of Greenwood. Strategically placed structures that enhance business and education are a Greenwood civic habit.

The month of April saw the city on the move. Literally.

Offices previously housed in the old City Hall and in rental spaces in Greenwood now fit in the tallest building in downtown Greenwood, 300 South Madison Avenue—the newly remodeled City Center.

WHY MOVE?
“It will be great for residents,” says Molly Laut, city spokesperson. Residents will be spared the inconvenience of bouncing between City Hall and the Emerson Avenue site to secure needed legal, planning, code, or engineering services.

Leaving behind the inadequate, 94-year-old building used as City Hall since 1986 at 2 North Madison (along with its colony of bats), city agencies, over a nine-day period in April, moved to its new four-story home. The new digs are filled with plenty of light and more generous workspaces for employees.

 

Under the direction of first-term Mayor Mark Myers, Greenwood was able to buy the foreclosed Presnell building, valued at $3.5 million, for about half price. The 1963 brick and steel structure encased in glass windows was gutted and reconfigured to meet current energy standards. The walls were insulated, and updated heating and air conditioning were installed. The exterior was reskinned with Thermopane, argon-filled laminate windows to make the entire building energy efficient. The expected savings in rent and utilities at current rates should be $80,000 per year.

WHAT YOU GET
Some of the architectural elements were kept, Laut points out. National Bank of Greenwood was the original owner. Its bank vault on the ground floor was turned into a small conference room, available to the public. Laut’s eyes twinkle as she turns the airlock handle in that vault-turned-room, playfully suggesting the air could be sealed out if the meetings go awry. But have no fears, the hefty steel door is welded open to an anchor beside one of the freshly painted, original brick walls.

The lobby retained the stunning green granite floors, and the glistening black tile square at the base of the stairwell was enhanced.

The wider and longer Council Chamber can seat 100 residents. More seating can be quickly added when a moveable wall along the back of the chamber is slid open.

The Utilities and Billing Department has more space and is now a light-filled area with windows on two sides.

A modest area upstairs is set aside for Franciscan St. Francis Health to provide an on-site physician for routine care for city staff and their families.

“It speaks about the mayor,” says Laut. “He wants the best morale in city employees. He wants to give them the best tools to do a job in an environment they can be proud of.”

PUBLIC ART SPACES
Set-aside areas in the building will host public art and economic development exhibits. The city is partnering with The Southside Art League (SALI) to provide exhibits for the longest lobby wall and two walls on the fourth floor. The wide, back lobby wall and hallway wall upstairs by a glass conference room are reserved for details about economic development happenings. “We kicked off economic development,” Laut says. “Come, Greenwood! Come paint on our canvas.”

“This building will scream economic development,” says Laut. “It is uncluttered, has functionality, and is streamlined and cost efficient. And it’s also gorgeous!”

DID YOU KNOW?
The growth of Greenwood led to reuse of two historic buildings. One is now the City Center. The other was the old City Hall. Originally named the James T. and Laura Polk Community House, it was built as a gift to the citizens of Greenwood. The 1920s Community House offered space for people to swim, play basketball (the first site for Greenwood High School games), practice golf and watch plays or “picture shows” in the 500-seat theater. The gymnasium floor opened and closed over the swimming pool in the basement. Thus, as Laut notes, the building “was never designed to be offices.”

In 1986, after a remodel to preserve its civic value, the city turned the old building into City Hall. Although the remodel was hotly debated among city leaders, then-Mayor Jeanette Surina held course and worked to keep city government near the heart of downtown. That decision added stability to the earliest Greenwood neighborhoods nearby.

It was Mayor Myers’ vision to keep city offices in the heart of Greenwood with City Center. He worked with council members and the Redevelopment Commission to purchase and remodel a building three blocks south of old City Hall/Polk House to anchor what is the south end of the downtown core.

BATS?
A word about bats in the former City Hall. Tall windows that had been part of the 1920s theater had been boarded over during a building remodel. Over time, the wood warped.
Bats moved in. “We couldn’t get rid of them,” says Laut.

The bats were so numerous that she kept her office ceiling air vent closed. She did not like bats greeting her every morning. Maintenance workers cleared the building daily prior to opening to the public. In full disclosure, Laut has made sure the bats are not news to any potential developers.

PIONEERS AND VISIONARIES
Greenwood began humbly, which was intentional.

Two brothers, John B. and Isaac Smock, moved their families to this area from Kentucky in the early 1820s to build life from lands blanketed in forests, wild animals, and streams teeming with fish. As they succeeded in taming their plots of land, more family and friends followed. Today a plaque stands on Madison Avenue by the Greenwood Park Mall where the Smocks first built cabins.

Visionary citizens in June 1864, three battle-weary years into the Civil War, gathered at the juncture of what is now Main Street and Madison Avenue to hold a vote on whether to incorporate the burg of Greenwood, population 300, into a legal town. The citizens agreed and laid out a grid where houses, businesses and a school (where Isom Elementary is now located) would be established.

Ninety-six years later, with Greenwood’s population nearly 7,200, leaders once again saw the need to manage development intentionally by incorporating as a city. Greenwood’s first mayor, Walter Burkhart, was elected in 1960.

Greenwood’s centennial population in 1964 was estimated at 8,300. Now 50 years later, for our sesquicentennial, the population estimate is 53,000.

21st CENTURY VISION
Mayor Myers grew up in Greenwood in a public-service–oriented family. His parents owned Myers Ambulance Service located behind Polk Community House. His father Larry was the fifth mayor of Greenwood.

Fluent in Spanish as an adult, Mark Myers spent five years in missions in Paraguay. His work years have included time as a member of both Greenwood Police and Fire Departments, and as the Johnson County Chief Deputy Coroner. Besides being mayor, he currently is a Johnson County Reserve Deputy Sheriff.

“I’ve come full circle,” says Mayor Myers. “I started out four blocks from here (City Center), circled the globe, spent time in South and Central America, and now I’m right back where I started.”

Thus, a short walk from where Greenwood was planted, Myers is the latest leader to intentionally set a course, this time using City Center to launch that vision.

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