Making Mauldin a destination is the goal of new City Center
Despite popular events such as Beachin’ Fridays and the SOOIE Mauldin BBQ Cookoff and venues like the Mauldin Cultural Center, the Upstate city at the tip of the Golden Strip has never been a destination. But Mauldin officials believe that will change when its new City Center opens in the summer of 2022.
“Mauldin has always been a crossroad community,” said Mauldin Mayor Terry Merritt. “If you’re at East Butler and 276 – what we now call Main Street – you’re passing through.”
Unlike other Upstate cities and towns, Mauldin has never had a defined downtown. The absence of a central business district spurred the development of strip malls through the 60s, 70s and 80s, making it difficult for Mauldin to establish its identity in one of the fastest growing regions of the country.
“All the research says that small towns need an identity, and our identity has been a bedroom community that you drive through,” Merritt said. “So, we want to change that.”
City officials also want to change the fact that Mauldin loses an estimated $28 million each year to restaurants and entertainment venues in other parts of the Upstate.
Seeds for the City Center project were planted more than a decade ago when studies by the Upstate Alliance and Ten at the Top predicted explosive growth for the Upstate.
“Those studies said that the growth was coming, and we could either plan for it or just let it happen,” Merritt said. “That’s when we began looking at what we could do and not lose our community feel.”
But the plan to develop nearly 24 acres along east Butler Road experienced starts and stops over the last decade, with the original developer and the city parting ways.
“We went through different iterations of how to do it,” Merritt said. “They wanted to do a remake of the city of Mauldin. It was a great plan and vision, but we wanted to focus first on the 24 acres.”
Elected to city council in 2015 and mayor in 2019, Merritt admits he wasn’t always sold on the idea of a downtown center. That is, until he met Drew Parker of The Parker Group and visited The Commons in downtown Greenville.
“One night, we snuck off to downtown Greenville to a little place called The Commons, and before we got parked, we ran into Drew and about 50 or 60 runners on a Tuesday night,” Merritt recalled. “We went in and saw the concept, which helped me from the visual side of it and seeing real people using the vision.”
For Parker, the City Center project is one that will complement what Mauldin already has accomplished.
“What really sold me was when (Mauldin Community Development Director) Van (Broad) walked me over to the cultural center,” said Parker, broker-in-charge of The Parker Group. “I was blown away by what this little town of Mauldin has done with these public buildings. I don’t see it as us coming in here and making Mauldin. Mauldin made Mauldin. We’re going to provide a place for people to gather and to live, work and play.”
City Center will be built on city-owned property along the railroad tracks on Murray Drive between Jenkins Street and East Butler Road. The focal point of the project is a 25,000-square-foot entertainment complex featuring a food hall with four to six food concepts, beer garden, indoor and outdoor pickleball courts, bocce ball courts, fire pits, an outdoor stage and ample green space. There will be year-round seating on a 5,000-square-foot covered patio, with a 100-space parking lot adjacent to the complex.
Construction on the food and entertainment complex is set to begin in late summer or early fall and is expected to open in the summer of 2022. The City Center project also features residential townhomes that will follow the opening of the commercial space by several months, according to Parker.
“Mauldin has so much ahead of it and so many positive things happening right now. If we can play a small part in that and maybe take a part of that $28 million that’s walking out of here, we’ll gladly let that come into the food hall and entertainment complex,” Parker said.
For Merritt, City Center is one more step forward in Mauldin’s transformation into a destination.
“It will give us a place to hang out and to be with,” Merritt said. “Mauldin will be a place to come to.”