Ben Carson, Tim Scott tout city’s public-private partnerships

Meeting Street Academy student Daija Downing gathered her poise before handing U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina a framed poem as a gift from her class, thanking him for his support of the five-year-old school.

“How old are you,?” Scott asked her.

“My birthday is tomorrow,” she said.

Scott then gave her a present she’d never forget. He led her classmates in chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Downing, who turns 10 on Tuesday, blushed.

Meeting Street Academy was the third and final stop on a visit to Spartanburg Monday by South Carolina’s junior senator and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. The visit’s purpose was to meet local leaders and see firsthand the successes of community projects that have involved private investment.

“Public-private partnerships is a model that works, creating win-win situations,” Carson said during his first stop, at Harvest Park Urban Farm and Monarch Cafe on North Howard Street.

The Northside Initiative includes Victoria Gardens, an 80-unit complex being converted under a HUD rental assistance program, and the Brawley Street Model Bock, a $10 million mixed-income housing development with 15 market-rate and five affordable multi-family apartments, medical offices and commercial space.

Harvest Park, also includes a functioning cafe and small grocer that offers fresh fruit and vegetables.

“It is to the government’s advantage that these projects are successful,” Carson said. “There’s tremendous leadership here.”

Former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet, the CEO and chairman of the Northside Development Group, was among those who met with Carson and Scott.

“The senator, who has spent a good bit of time here, understands what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Barnet said. “This is a unique opportunity by shining a light that not only helps our community, but helps others.”

Carson and Scott then headed to the recently opened 289-unit Drayton Mills Lofts, a renovated textile mill. The mixed-use project received funding from a federal multifamily housing loan and Historic Tax Credit.

Developer John Montgomery said more housing, businesses and trails will soon follow at Drayton Mills.

“The mill has really helped to spur large-scale development here,” Montgomery said.

Carson explained that HUD invests in all types of projects, not just low-income housing. He stressed HUD’s desire to help fund public-private projects.

“Does it cost us money to do it? Absolutely,” Carson said. “But it’s an investment. We have to think proactively. We have to have a vision. Use that incredible brain that God gave us.

“I could be a little biased,” the neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate added. “We don’t have to settle for what other people say we are. We can decide to be who we want to be. Together we rise. If we don’t … as with many other great societies in the world, we will sink.”

At Meeting Street Academy, Scott and Carson told third- and fourth-graders they grew up in difficult circumstances. Both encouraged the youngsters to read as much as possible.

“There’s an old saying, leaders are readers,” Scott said. “I became a business owner. (Carson) became a neurosurgeon.”

The school opened in 2012 as a private school, aiming to bring in students whose families were zoned for low-performing schools and lacked the financial means to pay for private education. Recently, the school became a school of choice by opening as part of the public School District 7 system.

District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker said the students were thrilled to see such prominent nationally recognized leaders.

“Any time we can expose them to the community work we do, it goes a long way to education,” Booker said.