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Building up, not out

18 S Main St. has ~300x higher property tax value by acre than Greenridge.

This yellow building at 18 S Main St. has ~300x higher property tax value by acre than Greenridge.

Earlier this month, Asheville-based urban planning firm Urban3 told Greenville County Council to start thinking about development the way a business would.

  • What kind of buildings give the best economic return?
  • What’s the value per acre?
  • What’s the revenue in property tax?

Because, technically, cities are corporations (that’s why they call it “incorporating” land).

And a city can make smarter economic decisions by focusing on numbers. Take property taxes: Greenridge’s tax value is $947,138/acre. 18 S Main St, a small building downtown, has a tax value of $30,180,617/acre. 2.3 acres of 18 S Main St equals the entire property tax production of 73-acre Greenridge. Which is smarter to build?

Urban3 compared development to gas mileage. You can get a Prius for 571 miles per tank, a Rolls-Royce for 380 miles per tank, or a little 1955 BMW Isetta for 245 miles per tank. But you wouldn’t compare by tank – you’d scale and look at the ratio.

Just like property, you don’t just look at output without considering size. You’d break it down to how much bang (or brick) you’re getting for your buck. The 1955 Isetta turns out to get 50/70 mpg, better than a Prius (51/48).

That’s why Urban3 recommends building up, not out. The county makes $6.70/acre in property taxes from a Walmart, but gets $274/acre from a 6-story mixed-use development. Downtown Greenville provides $20,127/acre in property taxes, while Woodruff Rd generates $3,495/acre.

Our downtown is providing significantly higher revenue for the city using much less space, which is why Urban3 says we should develop there first.

If you look at Greenville County, Greenville City makes up just 3% of the county. But it makes up 19% of the County value (a 1:6 ratio). Zoom in to Greenville City: downtown is 1% of the city area, but is 9% of its value (a 1:9 ratio). Pull it all the way back, and downtown Greenville makes up 0.033% of Greenville County, but makes up 2% of its value.

Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a 1:61 ratio, meaning that one acre of downtown brings in the same amount of revenue as 61 acres outside downtown.

So while it feels like downtown receives all the attention and a smaller rural city miles away is getting none, that smaller city is receiving the benefits (like fixing roads + funding schools) of Greenville County stacking up that property tax money. A thriving downtown means the whole area wins.

We hear a lot of feedback that there’s too much development happening downtown. Let us know how you feel or if these stats made you think differently, and read the whole presentation here.