It’s early 2018. A time of resolutions. A time of new ideas. A time to dust off the old saw about “out with the old and in with the new.”
I’ve been thinking about this phrase recently after reading a new book called “Year of the Pitcher,” by Sridhar Pappu. It is an easy, nostalgic read about the 1968 baseball season when hitters appeared helpless and pitchers like Bob Gibson, Denny McLain and Don Drysdale became legends. While I knew most of the stories, one little throwaway paragraph caught my attention. It was a few shorts sentences about how in the late 1960s, there was a concerted effort to demolish Fenway Park in Boston. There were even plans for a “dome” that would house all of the professional sports teams in Boston that was to be built by 1970.
Wait, what? There was an actual plan to demolish the hallowed Fenway? Home of the Red Sox? Home of the Green Monster? One of baseball’s “cathedrals?” Move the Sox to a dome? How dumb could Boston’s city leadership actually be?
The answer was not very. At that time and place, it would have made sense to demolish Fenway, which was baseball’s smallest park, and move to a bigger stadium. Small parks meant less revenue, which was big because back then almost of a team’s money came from gate attendance. But come on, it was Fenway? Right? Wrong. Back then, few cared about Fenway. The Red Sox were terrible through most of the 1960s and drew poorly most years. Boston wasn’t alone in its idea of building new sporting stadiums. Cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New York and St. Louis all demolished their “old, outdated parks” and were placing them with multi-use super stadiums that could double attendance. Other rising cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Miami and Houston were building modern stadiums to entice pro teams and create more money and , um, more civic pride, yeah civic pride. So, a plan to demolish Fenway would have been in lock step with the rest of professional sports and other major American cities. For various political reasons, though, a new Boston dome never was built. The Red Sox got better, attendance got better, and by some point between Carlton Fisk frantically waving his Game Six home run ball fair and the mid-1980s, Fenway became Fenway. When the Red Sox ownership group suggested a new stadium in 2000s, it went over as well as plan to demolish a perfectly good bridge in downtown Greenville.
Which begs the question when does “out with the old, in with the new” begin to piss people off? In the 1960s, Fenway was junk. Now, it is a Boston landmark. In the 1960s, Reedy River Falls was junk, now it is a Greenville landmark. What changes? When and why? What are the symptons? Can it be cured? As Jerry Garcia once said of his band, The Grateful Dead, “we’re sort of like the town whore that’s finally become an institution. We’re finally becoming respectable.” Nothing really changes except our perceptions.
I ask these questions because as usual, the future of downtown Greenville is at a crossroads. The downtown master plan is set to be updated this year, according to a recent article in The Greenville Journal. This is going to be a big deal because this updated plan will help guide downtown well into the future just as past plans helped steer what downtown is today.
Those plans have worked well, to the say the least.
Greenville’s downtown has become one of the best in nation — known for its unique blend of practicality (yeah parking garages!) and charm (including our replica Fenway known as Fluor Field). And while some people complain about how much Greenville’s downtown has changed for the worse because of the new apartments or because of new restaurants, what are they really mad about? Is it a symptom of “out with the old, in with the new?”