Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Greenville’s Renaissance

Greenville’s been hogging the headlines lately. Esquire heralded this upstate South Carolina hot spot as a “Foodie City.” It is one of AARP’s 2013 “Top 10 Places to Retire,” Outside Magazine’s “Best Towns 2013,” Travel and Leisure’s America’s Greatest Main Streets,” and one of Forbes’ “America’s Best Downtowns.”

Not bad for a former resort town, turned textile center, turned automotive industry magnet, that has completely revamped its once-tired downtown in the past 20 years. The Reedy River runs through it — thus the textile mills — and old photos show boarded-up buildings, overgrown trees and bushes, obviously foul water and a waterfall obscured by a road bridge.

No more. Now, about a mile and a half of Main Street is lined with street trees, brick sidewalks, art galleries, retail shops and more than 100 restaurants, many locally owned and locally sourced. A local distillery hawks handcrafted moonshine. Falls Park sports a pedestrian bridge with waterfall views, and the entire downtown has free Wi-Fi.

And its all an hour or less from hiking, biking and zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“I’d stack up our downtown against any,” said Joe Kramer, vice president of sales for Visit Greenville SC. “It’s well laid out, green and rustic with a comfortable, small-town feel. It’s all walkable, and a number of our major meetings sites and attractions are downtown.”


Meetings in the Mill

Leading the pack is the TD Convention Center, a huge retrofitted textile mill with 280,000 square feet of exhibit space, 60,000 square feet of meeting space and a 30,000-square-foot ballroom. A $22 million enhancement six years ago added curb appeal and connectivity to the building, just as the economy slid.

“We’re lucky,” Kramer said. “The handful of international companies here, including Michelin and BMW, were less affected by the recession and helped us pull through. Our business travel and meetings are now booming.”

AAA Four Diamond properties abound among Greenville’s six major meetings hotels.

The first of those, the Hyatt Regency Greenville, is the city’s largest, with 330 rooms, 11 of those suites, and 35,000 square feet of meeting space, all in the heart of downtown. Receptions for 300 can be held in either its magnificent eight-story glass atrium or an outdoor plaza with fountains, part of NOMA (short for North Main), a jazzy public square where the hotel hosts music and Saturday Yoga.

“Our Studio 220 is a nearly 6,000-square-foot art gallery with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Main Street,” said Larry Bell, the hotel’s general manager. “The room seats 300, and the view is spectacular at night.”

The Hyatt’s casual Roost specializes in organic, farm-to-table Southern cuisine.

Jane Shepard, director of meetings for The Rees Group, planned a five-day meeting in Greenville for the International Society of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses in 2009 and another in 2014. Both years, the nurses group took over the Hyatt Regency.

“The buyout afforded attendees greater networking opportunity,” said Shepard. “They liked walking out of the hotel to restaurants and shops. And downtown Greenville is so safe.”

Greenville doesn’t have a lot of citywide conventions, said Kramer. “Our average booking is 160 rooms on a peak night. Planners find we’re a great alternative to Charlotte or Atlanta, and we’re two hours from each.”


Historic and Hopping

Another downtown AAA star is the 200- room Greenville Westin Poinsett, a member of Historic Hotels of America. The property was built on Main Street in 1925, and its restoration was part of the city’s revival. Now its rich décor, soaring ceilings, original marble and sparkling chandeliers reflect its Southern grace, while Westin’s upgrades — free Wi-Fi, Heavenly Beds and rentable New Balance fitness gear among them — help fill its weekdays with corporate travelers.

Among 11,000 square feet of meeting space are two 3,200-square-foot ballrooms that overlook Main Street; Spoonbread Restaurant, known for its Sunday brunch; and The Lounge, with live piano music five nights a week.

“Our mezzanine that overlooks the lobby is a terrific reception space,” said John Geddes, director of sales and marketing. “There are half-floors and half-steps and nooks and crannies with comfortable couches for private meetings and breakouts.”

Close to the airport, the third AAA Four Diamond is the Greenville Marriott, with 203 rooms, two spacious ballrooms and 14 meeting rooms. Amenities include a day spa and a new eatery that uses local products.

“Downtown has lots of farm-to-table restaurants,” said Alan Strozier, director of sales and marketing, “but this area has mostly franchises. So ours — Artisan — stands out.”

Foodies are indeed flocking to Greenville. Numerous restaurants with “soil to city” menus make for a fun, delicious dine-around. And palates reign at Euphoria a September food and wine festival.

John Nolan of Greenville Historic Tours takes groups of 10 to 20 on history-focused walking or driving tours and on culinary tours that stop at five downtown restaurants. On one food tour, chefs at each restaurant serve a signature dish, while Nolan chats about the town’s revitalization.

“On Tuesday nights, chefs actually demonstrate how to make the dish,” said Nolan.

The second tour immerses the crowd in Southern food and goes way beyond shrimp and grits.