Former mayor: Slow, steady growth best for Liberty

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

LIBERTY — Slow, cautious and calculated growth is best for the city of Liberty, former Liberty mayor Michael Sheriff believes.

“We don’t want to explode and grow like the larger cities near us,” he said. “I think one of the assets of Liberty is its small-town charm. That should be Liberty’s legacy.”


Sheriff spoke recently as part of the State of Liberty event, sponsored by the new Liberty Area Chamber of Commerce.

Sheriff said effective partnerships are a “key ingredient” in the success of any community, especially communities with limited resources.

“You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” Sheriff said. “Well, the same applies to a community. It takes a partnership to develop a community.

“Citizens need to rally around and support the city and it’d be amazing what we could accomplish,” he continued.

He said much progress has been made in recent years.

“I’ve often had a lot of people tell me that Liberty’s not growing, Liberty’s not doing anything, Liberty’s not moving forward,” Sheriff said. “I would like to tell those people that we need to stop using Clemson and Easley as a yardstick for the success of Liberty. We are different. We have different circumstances, different issues, different problems and different demographics. But we also have different opportunities. We’ve got a unique opportunity to grow slowly and calculatedly.”

Protecting the city’s small-town feel should be at the forefront of everything city leaders do, he believes.

Successes in Liberty over the last decade include the development of a medical center and the Pickens County Commerce Park, which he said “is a great asset to Liberty.”

When the commerce park first began, news media would refer to it as “near Easley” obscuring the fact that the park is located in Liberty, Sheriff recalled.

“They’d always say ‘near Easley’,” he said. “I finally got them to say Liberty. Now most of the time when a new industry is introduced in the commerce park, they say Liberty.”

“We need to take advantage of that commerce park and partner with them,” Sheriff said. “Corporate partners love to participate in city events – they just need to be asked. Corporate partners are very community-minded and welcome the opportunity to participate.”

He said Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant made a “major investment in Liberty” at Highway 178 and Front Street.

“I don’t think (Pancho’s owners) would mind if I told you they had three-quarters of a million dollars invested in the city of Liberty before they served the first taco,” Sheriff said. “That is a tremendous belief in Liberty.”

In 2003, a plan was presented to city council for the development of Freedom Park.

“Freedom Park was dedicated two years later,” Sheriff said. “This was a very successful project and one of the greatest examples of a partnership between the city of Liberty, the Chamber of Commerce at the time, Parks, Recreation and Tourism” and generous donations from private industry and residents alike.

Improving citizens’ quality of life is essential, Sheriff said.

“One of the main things the mayor and city council needs to ask when they have a new project they’re considering, or a new ordinance, they need to ask, ‘How is this going to improve the quality (of life) of the citizens of Liberty?’” he said.

Another advantage Liberty has? The transformation of the former middle school site into a government complex.

“Great asset for the city of Liberty,” Sheriff said. The renovation also includes “a very nice facility for our senior citizens,” he said.

“There’s been incredible growth in the city of Liberty,” Sheriff said. “We’re growing slow and calculated. Quick growth brings on a lot of problems, a lot of issues that a small town like Liberty, with the charm we have, doesn’t need.”

Not too long ago, the city didn’t have a Fred’s, a Family Dollar or a Dollar General.

“Liberty’s not stagnant, as some people believe,” Sheriff said. “It’s moving forward and moving forward at a great pace for Liberty.”

The city’s recreation program has grown tremendously under great leadership. It has experienced tremendous facility growth as well, including a new concession building and press box, Sheriff said.

“But most of all, Liberty has acquired a new football stadium, running track and we have additional basketball facilities,” Sheriff said. “These projects would not be possible without partnerships.”

Projects that need to be addressed in the future include additional development at Freedom Park, such as a Senior Citizen Life Trail, which would provide additional exercise opportunities aside from the walking trail, he said.

“A lot of potential still exists in Freedom Park,” Sheriff said. “The city needs to seek funds for that project. It’s a very doable project.”

Plans for an outdoor learning lab and amphitheater exist, he said.

The work going at Highway 178 and Highway 93 will benefit the city, Sheriff said.

“We’ve got some growing pains,” Sheriff said. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better. I think everybody realizes that. In the end, it’s going to be a great asset for the city of Liberty.”

That project is an example of a fruitful partnership between the city and the Department of Transportation, he said. The project took more than a decade to come together.

“Be persistent,” Sheriff said. “If you want a project you have to work on it.”

The next stage of the Commerce Street project is “probably the most difficult one to achieve,” Sheriff said. Strong partnerships between the city, property owners and business owners are needed to make sure that area continues to develop.

He said the city has taken “a great step in the right direction” in providing facade grants.

Adhering to developmental standards is essential to ensure “a common theme of bringing old charm and architectural character back to Liberty,” Sheriff said.

“We have such a wonderful opportunity,” Sheriff said. “It would be a travesty not to see it through.”

“The old chamber of commerce was very successful in the success of the projects I’ve mentioned,” Sheriff said. “This is so counterproductive in so many ways.

He thanked those involved in bringing a chamber of commerce back to Liberty.

“I’m so excited about the opportunity to be a part of it,” he said. “I applaud everyone for taking on this challenge. To me, it demonstrates their love and passion for Liberty. I share that love and passion and look forward to a successful chamber.”