roads-scholar

Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport

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Recently purchased the book "Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport: Upstate South Carolina's Gateway to the World. a History" by Dave Partridge. A terrific read about the history of the airport and the men who got it built. There's a lot of fascinating upstate history in the book too. Dave Partridge is a Greenville resident and, for those of us old enough to remember, a well-liked news anchor for Channel 4 back when it was WFBC-TV.

Partridge has interviewed most of they key players and has done a wonderful job researching the airport's time line from concept to construction to grand opening. In the process he has debunked a lot of the myths and "conspiracy theories" that I've heard from my Greenville friends [and a few Spartanburg friends too] over the years. They constantly berate me about the "heavy-handed" way the Spartanburg delegation pushed the Greer site over a more favorable [and closer to] Greenville site. They also insist that the airport was a Greenville idea and that Spartanburg was against the concept from the beginning.

Below is what I learned:

  • Roger Milliken, while believing that a regional airport was critical to the long-term economic viability of the upstate, was not one of the airport's initial visionaries. In fact, the real visionary was legendary aviator and World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who voiced the need for an upstate regional airport while speaking at a luncheon held at Greenville's Poinsett Hotel in 1945.
  • Even approaching middle age Milliken was afraid to fly and, before moving his company headquarters from New York to Spartanburg, traveled by train. He was approached by his friend, Greenville businessman Charles Daniel, to champion the airport. Milliken enthusiastically accepted and has been the airport's driving force since.
  • Charles Daniel, founder of Greenville's Daniel Construction Company and a key driver behind the airport, too was afraid to fly. Well after his company became a global general contractor did he purchase a company plane in 1956. But like Milliken, he believed that a regional airport was critical to the future of the upstate. In a strange turn of events, Daniel Construction Company lost the bid to build the airport. Greenville's Suitt Construction Company won the bid.
  • Milliken's relationship with the city of Greenville was much closer than I thought. Before relocating his company to Spartanburg he stayed in the Poinsett Hotel when he visited his plants, most of them located in Spartanburg County.
  • The site eventually chosen for the airport (south of Greer and north of Pelham and yes, mostly in Spartanburg County) was picked by the president of Greenville's Piedmont Engineering, not by a cabal of Spartanburg [or Greenville] industrialists. He chose this site for several reasons: (1) it was 900 feet above sea level with good visibility in all directions, (2) prevailing winds favored the alignment of the proposed runway, (3) the site was mostly rural and required little relocation of people, homes, businesses, and roads, (4) it was approximately halfway between Greenville and Spartanburg, (5) it was adjacent to the new Interstate 85, and (6) there was plenty of land for future expansion.
  • Donaldson Air Force Base, by the late 1950's slated to close by the Pentagon, was considered for the airport. In fact, several Greenville business and political leaders aggressively advocated it becoming the new regional airport even after the Greer site was chosen. The airport commission, which included Messrs. Daniel and Milliken, commissioned Leigh Fisher and Associates, a respected San Francisco based airport consulting firm to weigh the pros and cons of the Donaldson site and [re]evaluate the already chosen site south of Greer. Leigh Fisher's report, released in early 1961, strongly endorsed the Greer site and recommended against Donaldson. The Donaldson location, said the report, was obviously not convenient to Spartanburg, would require millions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades, and it's connection to Interstate 85 would not be ideal. Moreover, the air force could take it back over. That would seem unlikely today but in the late 50's and early 60's conflict between the US and the Soviet Union was a real possibility and the air force had taken back control of other former bases during that era.
  • Local political and business leaders from both Greenville and Spartanburg enthusiastically supported the regional airport although it could have meant their local airports, which much had been invested, might lose business and eventually close. The manager of Spartanburg's' airport, Buck Moss, told the Spartanburg Herald that he supported the airport and believed that general aviation traffic at his airport would increase. Local media, including both Greenville and Spartanburg newspapers welcomed the new airport and kept their readers updated and informed on construction progress.
  • Nowhere in Partridge's book is there mention of a Spartanburg elected official, businessman, or resident questioning the need, the location, or the cost of the airport.
  • The level of cooperation between the two cities was remarkable. City, county, and state delegations met often to discuss the project and never was there any serious disagreements. Never before or perhaps since have Greenville and Spartanburg worked together so closely.
  • The quality and quantity of airline service was a problem even when the airport opened in 1962. Only Eastern and Southern Airlines served the airport in it's early days and jet service to the "jetport" did not begin until 1965. Airline service has ebbed and flowed over the years but passenger traffic has steadily increased.
  • The airport's first director was the director of Greenville's Municipal Airport, a decision supported by the entire airport commission.
  • The airport commission, created by state law in 1958, consists of six members. Three from Greenville County, three from Spartanburg County.

Finally, the airport opened on schedule and on budget. And, yours truly attended the dedication ceremonies in 1962 although I was too young to know what to think of it all.

Edited by roads-scholar

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This is good stuff. Do you think this guy being from Greenville gives him a bias?

One thing you can say about Milliken is that he knows a good investment when he sees it. The fact that the business and political leaders got behind this idea speaks volumes for what was (and can be) accomplished when you work together with your neighbor. It's a shame that Greenville and Spartanburg cant work together on some things other than economic development these days. Adopting some zoning and actually planning for growth in both counties is virutually non-exsistant (though still better in Greenville).

This is particularly interesting because at that time, Spartanburg and Greenville were essentially the same size cities, so I find it interesting that some Greenvillians were so insistent about the Donaldson Center location.

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This is good stuff. Do you think this guy being from Greenville gives him a bias?

No - I didn't detect any bias.

One thing you can say about Milliken is that he knows a good investment when he sees it. The fact that the business and political leaders got behind this idea speaks volumes for what was (and can be) accomplished when you work together with your neighbor. It's a shame that Greenville and Spartanburg cant work together on some things other than economic development these days. Adopting some zoning and actually planning for growth in both counties is virutually non-exsistant (though still better in Greenville).

This is particularly interesting because at that time, Spartanburg and Greenville were essentially the same size cities, so I find it interesting that some Greenvillians were so insistent about the Donaldson Center location.

Edited by roads-scholar

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Southwest Airlines has announced that they are coming to GSP!

Service will begin in 2011. Southwest also said its service will not be dependent upon incentives legislation.

This is fantastic news for Spartanburg, the Upstate, and South Carolina!

Herald-Journal article

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GSP Airport may undergo a massive $84 million expansion/renovation with construction starting in May 2012 according to this news article: http://www.gsabusine...enovation?rss=0

One of my hangups with the airport is the lack of dining options. Windows is a nice restaurant but it would be beneficial for passengers to have another diner in the concourse areas past security.

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GSP Airport commission is moving forward with the planned $99 million renovation to the terminal building. The design phase is expected to take 6 months.

Herald-Journal article

The article also mentions that next Wednesday, Southwest Airlines will announce their destinations, introductory fares, and when they will begin service.

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Southwest Airlines will begin service at GSP on March 13, 2011. The will have 7 daily non-stop flights to 5 destinations: two to Baltimore/Washington, two to Chicago Midway, one to Nashville, one to Houston Hobby, and one to Orlando. Over 60 other destinations will be available through connections. Southwest will operate from gates A3 and A4. Introductory fares will be as low as $30 (one-way).

Herald-Journal article

I priced some flights on Southwest.com (link to search fares from GSP) and found that the introductory fares seem to end about 3 weeks after service begins. After that point, a $30 one-way fare would increase to $79 or $99 (I priced a flight to BWI). I believe that's still an improvement over today's fares (plus no bag fees).

(Edit: I read the article more closely. The $30 fares are a special, limited time price)

Edited by westsider28

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Apparently, there's some dispute over the filling of two empty Spartanburg seats on the GSP Airport Commission.

Herald-Journal article

I see Bill Barnet is one of the applicants. I hope he is one of the two chosen.

I'm a bit worried about the future of Spartanburg representation on the GSP Airport Commission, and this article supports that worry. We need to have a united delegation willing to stand up for the interests of Spartanburg. Call me paranoid, but after the death of Roger Milliken, and the appointment of someone from Greenville to his chairman position, I'm concerned that Greenville's influence on GSP affairs will surpass that of Spartanburg's (more than it already has).

(For instance, initially, on Southwest Airlines' online map of service, they had our airport labeled "Greenville." :ermm: I'd like to think that an e-mail I sent them got it changed to "Greenville-Spartanburg." ^_^ )

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Since the airport is located entirely in Spartanburg County, it's not possible to discount Spartanburg from the equation. I think part of the issue is with Spartans dealing with the 'inferiority complex' (for lack of a better term) of sharing the limelight with Greenville. We can't sit around an pretend like Greenville isn't there and doesn't impact our economy and vice-versa.

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Resurrecting this thread because it was announced that RJ Rockers will have a presence at the renovated GSP terminal!  Really happy to see this.  It sounds like it could be similar to the Thomas Creek Grill previously announced.  More details to come.  It will be great to have both Greenville and Spartanburg breweries represented at GSP!

 

GSP Wingspan article

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My favorite color is blue. How about yours? Complete the survey today and help us bring more blue to the area: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KDCVZZ8 Anybody completing the survey will be entered to win a $250 Visa giftcard. Sponsored by GSP Airport and Greenville Chamber Economic Competitiveness.

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