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TDDA Public Forum with Philip Walker

Full house at Grace Church Community Space


TRYON—On Monday, July 29 the Tryon Downtown Development Association hosted a public forum with certified planner Philip Walker.

Walker spent two days in Tryon back in 2015 and assisted the TDDA in developing a strategic plan for the development of Downtown Tryon. Since Walker’s last visit in 2015, the Town of Tryon has completed the majority of the recommendations that he made, with one of the most significant recommendations being that the TDDA needed to hire a full-time Executive Director.

Jamie Carpenter was hired as the Executive Director of the TDDA as a result of Walker’s last visit. At the public forum, Walker and TDDA President Scott Hooper praised Carpenter for helping the TDDA diversify funding support, promoting the downtown stores and community, and working on streetscape completion for town. 

The TDDA has completed many of the projects that Walker proposed in 2015, including the completion of the streetscape improvements on Trade Street. With the success of Walker’s first recommendations, the TDDA called him back to help develop a new strategic plan for the town going forward into the future. The focus of the public forum was to determine what residents thought Tryon needed to make it a more livable community with opportunities to live, work, eat, shop, recreate, as well as giving them the opportunity to enjoy culture and Greenspace.  

One thing that the forum wanted to reassure residents of was that the goal was not to rapidly grow the overall population of Tryon but to find a way to better serve the residents that are already there and to help the town maintain a sustainable population. The 2017 census reported that there are 1,615 Tryon residents. The Town of Tryon has maintained just over 1,600 residents for the last nine years, showing that the town does have the resources to maintain its current size. 

Walker will stay in Tryon for two days, his visit will include meeting with the TDDA members, meeting with the Town Council, and hosting the public forum. Following his visit, Walker will create a new plan with recommendations and guidance for the town. The new plan will be presented to the TDDA’s board of directors who will then review the practices recommended to help them develop and implement a two-year work plan for the town. The work plan will be presented to the public at a later date. 

TDDA President Scott Hooper introduced Walker at the public forum, “The Polk County Community grant helped make this possible and helped us get Mr. Walker back in Tryon.”  Applying for the grant from the Polk County Community was one of Walker’s recommendations back in 2015. “Mr. Walker is here to help us figure out where we need to focus our efforts from here on,” Hooper said. “We are trying to figure out what we can do (TDDA) and what our role is to keep driving things forward in Tryon. There is something magnetic about this town, you don’t have to live her to know that, you can feel it every time you visit.” 


“We are going to go through some of the things that have happened since the last time I was here in 2015,” Walker said. “The changes are substantial, you might not notice the changes if you live here because they are subtle things that have happened over time. But to me they are substantial coming back and seeing them. A lot of very positive things are happening here in Tryon.”

“There is a reason that we are having this meeting here in Downtown, to talk about the future of the Downtown area,” Walker said. “When you do a project for a Downtown, everyone shows up because it is for the center of the town, it gets everyone involved.” Walker laid on the praise for the uniqueness of Tryon and its residents, “When you are in Downtown Tryon, you know where you are, it has its own identity. This is a post card location.” 

Walker’s development style is built around a three stage process, the first stage is doing background work to re-familiarize himself with the area, the second is to meet with property owners and real-estate developers, and the final step is meeting with the residents of the community in a public forum. 

Walker conducted a presentation that included a PowerPoint displaying a birds-eye-view of the town and the unique challenge that Tryon has because it is a “one sided” down town. The one sided part is referring to the fact that the sidewalk and shops are all on one side of the main road. An additional challenge that Walker pointed out is the location of the railroad tracks as they split the Downtown area and run almost parallel to Trade Street. 

Walker praised the extended sidewalks and pedestrian bulbs at the cross walks in Downtown that encourage walkability and public safety. Parking is, and has been an issue in Downtown Tryon for sometime, especially during large events like the Summer Tracks concert series. Residents surely noticed last Friday that the town was packed and spaces were incredibly scarce the closer you got to Rogers Park. 

Walker emphasized the importance of encouraging employees and shop owners in Downtown to park in the rear lots, or off of the main strip of parking as it encourages people to stop and shop. Additionally, Walker liked the inclusion of limiting the parking times in downtown to a two to three our window, he said that the town could enforce those regulations without adding parking meters. Having those time limits helps encourage turn over for the restaurants and stores in Downtown. 

“You have got a good mix of businesses in this community, especially for such a small town,” Walker said. “What you haven’t had is a real comprehensive developmental plan in this community, because of the size of this community that may be hard to ever truly do.” 

Walker noted that the Town has laid the groundwork to have the Downtown area classified as a Historic District, but has yet to “pull the trigger” and implement it throughout what would be the Downtown Historic District. Some areas are currently covered as Local Historic District, but Walker said the North part of Trade Street is more vulnerable without that Historic District protection. Walker made it clear in the public forum that the groundwork has already been laid to make that happen, and that he believes it is something important for the Town of Tryon to finalize.

As mentioned above, the Fourth Friday events and Summer Tracks series have been an incredible success for the Town of Tryon, Walker praised the Fourth Friday events and Carpenter’s promotion of those events saying, “Fourth Fridays started in 2018 and what can I say, what a success.”  

The key component and body of the public forum was a group work session followed by group presentations that allowed residents to work together to come up with their own suggestions and solutions to some of the problems Tryon currently faces. 

The TDDA and Walker set up nine tables with a large map of Tryon and a list of questions for residents to address, the groups were asked to use colored markers to draw on the maps to show areas of Tryon where proposed projects could take place. Over 50 Tryon residents participated in the public forum, including three city councilmen (Crys Armbrust, Bill Ingham, and Bill Crowell), Mayor Peoples and Town Manager Zach Ollis. 

The questions that Walker prepared were:

  1. What uses, features or activities would attract people to Downtown?
  2. Delineate areas where new or additional businesses should be located and what type of businesses?
  3. Are there types of residences you would like to see more of in the future? New buildings or adaptive reuse? Where?
  4. Are there civic or institutional uses that should be added to Downtown? What and where?
  5. Are there existing public spaces that should be enhanced or new public spaces added I Downtown? What and where?
  6. Are there opportunities to improve mobility and the streetscape in Downtown? What and where?
  7. Are there other opportunities to improve Downtown beyond physical planning-such as economic, social, cultural, public safety, etc.?

Some of the proposed comments from Tryon residents included,

  • Creating public bathrooms on or near Trade Street
  • Increasing the number of Downtown residents and residential living spaces
  • Increased promotional pieces for out of town residents that market to other towns and communities for Fourth Friday and other town events
  • Increased signage in Downtown connecting to the area closer to the Town Hall and areas further North on Trade Street
  • Cross Streets and other areas that connect to Downtown but also have shops and areas worth visiting
  • Determine what group we want visiting town, retired people, outdoorsy, equestrians, or whatever else
  • Employment opportunities in Tryon, looking into creating job opportunities in town that will cause people to move to the area 
  • Inclusion of a dog park on Howard
  • Increased signage and lighting in Downtown to direct visitors that may not be familiar with the area
  • Connect Woodland Park to Melrose Avenue with walkable trails
  • Create walkable trails from Downtown to the cemetery and to Nina Simone’s childhood home 
  • Expand storefronts down towards White Oak rather than forcing the older Tryon residents to walk up the hill to visit Downtown 
  • Create a map of the trails and sidewalks through the town that would be available to visitors, not just the streets, railroads, and waterways
  • Artisan Market to replace the Farmers Market, possibly set up a recurring Artisan Market for the town, the growers can’t keep up with the size of the Landrum and Columbus markets so create a unique market to express the art culture of Tryon 
  • Opening a general store, loosely based on a mass general store, would include basic items and necessities that both residents and visitors would need that would draw people to Downtown on a regular basis, as well as some tourist style gifts 
  • Create an open air pavilion on main street that could serve as a multi-use public space
  • Work with Landrum to create a Trolley system that would shuttle people along the railroad back and fourth between the two towns
  • Convert the railroad tracks into a Rail to Trail system that would connect Landrum and Tryon, encouraging people to walk or cycle between the towns
    • Could expand that later to connect to Saluda
  • Create or emphasize a unique “identity” that represents Tryon in a marketable way

One of the groups made the statement that the TDDA and the town needed to find a way to increase the engagement of the younger people in the community, the presenter motioned around the room to note that aside from one young gentleman, the room lacked representation from the younger generation.

The TDDA collected the maps and suggestions from each group and will work together with Walker to develop the work plan for the town. 

Walker will have his recommendations ready for the TDDA board by August 5.

By Samuel Robinson