It started off as a small project, but the revitalization of the downtown Taylors area has grown larger than many could ever imagine. At the forefront is Alex Reynolds, an “accidental” champion of small-town revitalization and growth, and now, the Chairman of Taylors Town Square.
“Two years ago, I was still Alex the gardener,” Alex Reynolds says, remembering the origins of the Taylors Mill revitalization project. What began back then, as a simple activity to bring a community together, soon became a movement in a local community creating widespread impact for an entire area. And Reynolds found himself in the middle of it.
Originally from Greeneville, Tennessee, Reynolds came to the Taylors area to attend North Greenville University. Upon graduating in 2010 with a degree in Ministry Media, he began working as a media producer for Taylors First Baptist Church.
“I’m one of those weird people who do what they went to school for, for a living,” he says with a chuckle. It was while working in that capacity that Reynolds began to feel a burden for the community in the immediate vicinity of the church.
“We realized as a church, that we haven’t always done the best job of connecting with the neighborhoods and community immediately surrounding us,” he says. ““We just started getting to know them.”
The original project started off as a community garden, partnering with R3 Ministries and the Generous Garden Project to begin using land at the Taylors Mill to plant. But through that undertaking, they met Kenneth Walker, the owner of the Taylors Mill Properties, and began discovering what was in place at the abandoned mill, where artists and craftsman had already started using parts of the mill for studio spaces and other businesses located, like Due South Coffee. Taylors was blooming, but few knew about it.
So, Reynolds asked himself one question: “What were we going to do about it?” And out of this question, Taylors Town Square was born.
At the first community meeting on October 17, 2012, the goal from the start was to “keep it simple and about connecting individuals together,” Reynolds says. Ironically, he adds, “We were not going to be an action committee.”
When they planned for five to 10 people coming to the meeting, and instead 25 to 30 showed up, it looked like Taylors Town Square was off the ground.
Over time, the Generous Garden Project proved unsustainable, but the community had already begun building relationships that united it, showing them what Taylors had the potential to become.
For Reynolds, building a community isn’t about how fast something is accomplished, but that it is thoughtfully planned and done right.
“Things happen, things succeed, things fail, stuff happens, but keep at it and keep going,” Reynolds says, noting that “building community is a marathon.”
Over time, outside organizations, such as Greenville County Rec, and County Planning began taking notice, and Taylors Town Square has become the vehicle to get things moving for the community. But Taylors is an unincorporated entity and wants to remain that way, so the non-profit Taylors Town Square is the vehicle for the community to hold land, raise finances and bring together resources and individuals to build up the community.
Fortunately, with the relationships that have been built from Taylors Town Square, they have been able to get the right guidance from other non-profits and organizations who may be working on similar initiatives on smaller scales.
After all, Reynolds says, “I have yet to find a precedent for a non-profit for what we are doing here.”
In addition to blazing new trails, one of the greatest challenges has been helping the community overcome themselves and work towards something bigger than just an individual.
“We as humans get focused on ourselves. Given the choice in most situations we focus on what’s good for ‘me’,” he says. But steadily, for two years, people have continued to show up and passionately work towards building a better community.
A disc golf course was one of the most recent projects to go in and was a great effort from all parts of the community. Now, the group is looking ahead to expand the park area to include trails around the Enoree River. In addition, the Town Square will continue to tackle coding issues regarding the Mill’s restoration for use, as well as continue to build the non-profit’s infrastructure and funding.
For Reynolds, the future is uncertain, and just as easily could change with each email in his inbox. As the newly-elected chairman of the board of Taylors Town Square, it’s safe to assume that his inbox will remain full.
“The lesson is this: I can tell you what I think it will be in two years,” he says, “But the journey is not straight.”