Downtown Greensboro Inc. is seeking fresh ideas for the center city.
“Big moves,” it’s calling them.
Among DGI officials’ goals for their 2030 Vision Plan: Connectivity with other destinations, abundant green space and diverse types of housing.
As if they had to ask.
I’ve been offering unsolicited advice on what to do downtown forever. Not that anyone’s listening.
A site at South Elm Street and what is now East Gate City Boulevard was a perfect spot for the new ballpark, said I. And, by the way, wouldn’t a new swim center be tailor-made for downtown?
Then there was my bright idea to turn what was the old Wachovia tower (which had stood empty for 16 years) into a higher education center, as Roanoke, Va., had done with the old Norfolk Southern headquarters. I even drove to Roanoke, toured the building (UNC-Chapel Hill had space there) and interviewed the people who operate it. Next, I lobbied developer Roy Carroll on the notion, to which he politely listened and wisely ignored, of turning the high-rise into CenterPointe instead.
Incidentally, we now have a higher-education presence downtown as well with both the Union Square campus and Elon School of Law. What’s more, as the News & Record’s John Newsom reported last week, UNCG is scouting downtown sites for most of its advancement office, and its off-campus art gallery and performance space.
DGI held two drop-in sessions last week to gather public input for its 2030 Vision and I expect it got a ton of brilliant suggestions.
But just in case, here are a few a more (didn’t somebody say something during the impeachment inquiry about throwing enough spaghetti against the wall in hopes that some it would stick?) Pasta and meat sauce, anyone?
1. Begin the N.C. A&T homecoming parade downtown. It is too large, diverse and fabulous an attraction not to be performed on a bigger, broader stage..
2. Establish an art-house movie theater downtown (if only they hadn’t demolished the National and Center theaters on South Elm Street). Downtown Winston-Salem has had one in Aperture Cinema since 2010.
3. Revive the idea for an affordable housing development, discounted for Guilford County Schools teachers, in a mixed-use village downtown.
4. Do something funky in the Lyndon Street area, near the railroad tracks to the east, which for now is best known for its distinctive row houses, an artists’ cooperative — and a colony of feral cats. Two lots there are for sale and it’d be nice to see them used creatively.
6. Keep the e-scooters. Lose the reckless riders. I haven’t learned to love them, but I accept them as cheap, clean alternative transportation. And I’ve accepted that some people will continue to violate the rules and ride them on sidewalks downtown, among other things. Nor do I expect police to do much ticketing. Just try not to kill yourselves, folks, or the rest of us.
7. Repurpose nightclub spaces as other types of businesses during the day. I’m stealing this idea from a consultant who visited Greensboro several years ago. He noted opportunities for some nightclubs to establish alter egos during the day (and new revenue streams) as shops or restaurants, rather than sitting dark and unused until after sunset.
8. Officially extend the Central Business District past the railroad tracks on eastern edge of downtown, at least to the Murrow Boulevard segment of the Downtown Greenway. And maybe beyond.
A major impetus for that change could be the aptly named Downtown East project, which will transform 14 vacant acres on East Market Street near N.C. A&T into 200 apartments, town houses, row houses and a grocery store as its retail anchor. The United House of Prayer for All People, which owns the land, first commissioned a study on how to develop it in 2007. Then it announced plans for Downtown East in September 2018. We waited breathlessly. We’re still waiting. The House of Prayer, whose headquarters are in Washington, has a record of successful developments in Charlotte, Boston and New York. But it tends to take its time.
Mac Sims, president of East Greensboro Now, which promotes development in the East Market Street area, sees that as a plus and not a liability.
“I commend the church for taking the time to get it right,” he said last week.
Sims also said that the question for Downtown is not an “if” bit a “when.”
I can’t wait. ... But obviously, I’ll have to.