Meet Fredalyn Frasier, Spartanburg's new planning director and guide for city's evolution

Fredalyn M. Frasier, city of Spartanburg, Planning Director: Planning Dept. downtown Spartanburg May 20, 2024.
Fredalyn M. Frasier, city of Spartanburg, Planning Director: Planning Dept. downtown Spartanburg May 20, 2024.

For Fredalyn Frasier, being appointed as Spartanburg’s new city planning director was a long-awaited chance at a homecoming.

Frasier, who last served as the planning and urban design senior director for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and Central Atlanta Progress, said she’d been seeking a role in South Carolina for some time.

While she was born in Greenville, her father’s time serving at the now decommissioned Donaldson Air Force Base ended shortly after.

“Soon as I was born, we were shipped off to the Philippines so I never lived in Greenville, except for visits, and only came back to South Carolina when my father was stationed at Charleston Air Force Base,” Frasier said.

Frasier attended the College of Charleston, where she was a student of Mayor Joseph P. Riley, who served as mayor of Charleston for 40 years and established many of the city's cultural aspects that draw in residents and tourists alike today.

“Then (I) started consulting and all my work was based in Florida and the Bahamas and the Midwest. And I said I just really would like to get back to South Carolina,” Fraiser said.  “This opportunity came up, and once I met the leadership team here, I said this is a good place. People work together. They work together; they support one another, and they're just open to new ideas. What more could you ask for in an opportunity?”

Fredalyn M. Frasier, city of Spartanburg, Planning Director: Planning Dept. downtown Spartanburg May 20, 2024.
Fredalyn M. Frasier, city of Spartanburg, Planning Director: Planning Dept. downtown Spartanburg May 20, 2024.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Are there any people or places that inspired you to pursue city planning as a career?

Answer: A combination of the two, I'd say. Growing up on military installations and then living abroad really reinforced, or at least brought to my awareness, this whole idea of walkability. At the time, I didn't know what that concept was, but soon as I grew up and realized that, "Oh, wow. I can't walk to the commissary or a market or get to the park." Things like that really made me think about why (other places are) so different from the way military bases or installations are planned and then how European cities also function.

I had the opportunity to go to the College of Charleston and, of course, being in that environment just reinforced what are those important elements that make a community thrive — the accessibility, the walkability. I had Mayor Riley as a professor ... and one of the things that he would always emphasize was what makes a community thrive? What makes a community vibrant?

That's what set me on my path toward urban planning: the fact that I had Mayor Riley as a professor, but before then, just living in these environments where communities were very vibrant, and it was because we could get around and even if we couldn't walk, we had really unique transportation options to take.

Q: What have been some of the most memorable parts of your career so far?

A: The fortunate thing is that being a consultant, I've worked on, I will say, hundreds of projects across my entire career ... But I would say, you know, as a consultant in my days, (a) project that stood out would be the BeltLine project.

In the early days, I led a multidisciplinary 10-firm team for the tax allocation feasibility study for the BeltLine, and of course, it did work out that it was a feasible proposition. And 20 years later, almost $8 billion of investment have occurred as a result of the BeltLine.

There’s some significant lessons that communities can learn from the BeltLine in terms of equality, affordable housing and economic development. So, I can't say it was all rosy ... But when you have significant investment projects like that, there are things that you need to be mindful of. I think other communities are learning lessons from the BeltLine. And in the end, it's already had a positive impact, but there are some things that they're still working on, and we can all learn from that.

Q: It’s been a while since the city has had someone in your role. What should the Spartanburg community know about your work at the city?

A: There was a dedicated and still a dedicated team in place that has taken on a yeoman's effort to make sure that planning initiatives stayed on track. That's one of the things that I appreciate about and what attracted me to Spartanburg was the whole idea of collaboration. Everyone here at the city, the leadership team and staff see the importance of collaboration and supporting one another. So planning work did not stop. However, what was missing is really someone who could step back and look at the big picture while also minding the tactical day-to-day elements to make sure that the results are the intended results.

Q: Downtown Spartanburg will see several major projects come together over the next few years: the baseball stadium, the planetarium, the Morgan Square upgrades and the joint city-county government office. What actions do you think will be necessary to ensure a smooth transition as the tenor of downtown changes?

A: It's an exciting time for Spartanburg. Some people may feel as though it's a lot going on at once, and sometimes change can be difficult, but in the long run, I think most see the benefits of all of these projects. So what's important here is communicating… being very clear with the community about what's going on in the downtown space.

I’ve heard this all the time since I’ve gotten here: How do we work with the community so that they feel like they're part of it as opposed to things being imposed on them? I think that philosophy is already here and just making sure that carries through as we initiate these projects is an important tenant for us to follow.

Q: Are there any takeaways from your experience in Atlanta that you plan to make use of as downtown Spartanburg becomes more of an entertainment destination?

A: I think every position that I've taken or role that I played will contribute to what's going to happen in the downtown space. I will say that I'm very cautious about giving the idea that somehow Atlanta ideas or concept are going to be applied here in Spartanburg. That is not the case.

The downtown district that I managed for Atlanta was modeled after a Denver district. So, as we evolve as an entertainment destination, we'll want to be authentic to Spartanburg. Just like Atlanta got the concept from Denver and then made it their own, I would imagine that all principles and ideas that we bring to the table here in Spartanburg are going to be authentic to Spartanburg. That's one of the tenants in the Comprehensive Plan: authenticity … acting on the goals and the vision that the community has articulated.

Q: How do you plan to balance historical preservation and new development in the city?

A: I don't see them as mutually exclusive. It's not the first time that communities with unique character and unique architecture have faced significant growth and development. So I believe by reviewing those precedents and understanding where good things happened and where there are lessons learned will be important, but I don't see it as an either-or. There's certainly a way for them to coexist in a way that is a benefit to the community.

One of the things that Mayor Riley would always speak on is that we shouldn’t build anything that is not a beauty and an asset to the community. He had this 50-year sniff test: In 50 years, if we do this, whether it has a contemporary edge to it or it was a building that was preserved, did we do it the right way? And will the community in 50 years say, “Yes, I’m glad that that was done.”

Q: What about balancing development and environmental conservation?

A: Again, I feel as though those two go hand in hand and … from what I've discovered in my short three weeks here, it has been a lens to the development process. I'm sure that there are ways that we can bring some other ideas to the table in terms of how that environmental component is addressed in development. But for the most part, when a development comes online, you really want to think about its the impact to the environment. Storm water is important. There are resiliency elements that we may want to have a development incorporate. There are a lot of best practices in terms of managing the impact of a development in a way that doesn't take away from it but really is a benefit to the community.

I read recently, and this is an older study, but it's from professors at Wofford (who) conducted the study on green space for the county and the city. And as you can imagine, there are some areas where green space is just totally lacking. There's this disparity there in terms of who has access to green space, which is a part of our ecosystem. So knowing that those kinds of gaps exist is important as we plan and when we talk about conservation.  Are we making sure that those communities are benefiting from those efforts as well?

Q: And, in the case of places that lack green space, looking for ways to create it? 

A: Exactly. Ways to create it, ways to preserve it, ways to incorporate it in any type of development that’s coming online. Ways to ensure that these areas don’t become heat islands because, for the most part, they lack the tree canopy that you would see in other parts of the city.

Q: What are your top goals for your first year?

A: I've decided to kind of take it in six month blocks, and I would say (the first) three to six is really the listening and learning and understanding tour. By that I mean I want to be in the community. I want to meet them there and have these conversations, just to get an idea and get a pulse of: What are their concerns? What are they happy about? Where would they like to see improvements? Really just making that connection, not just with me, but with planning. Not having a director for 10 years, I just want to reintroduce the community to what the team does on a day-to-day basis.

That's kind of the short term. Long-term, I am penciling out what those goals will be, but I am very clear that there are internal goals that I have, process-wise, and then there are external goals as well.

Samantha Swann covers city news, development and culture in Spartanburg. She is a University of South Carolina Upstate and Greenville Technical College alumna. Contact her at or on Instagram at @sam_on_spartanburg.

This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: 9 questions for Fredalyn Frasier, Spartanburg's new planning director