Not one usually one to make breathless pronouncements, Roy Carroll sounded a little bit like the Tweeter in Chief on March 30 when he teased a coming attraction to downtown Greensboro in a post.
“At the May 1 DGI Spring Meeting,” the billionaire owner of the Carroll Cos. tweeted, “ We will unveil our plans for the site we own south of the GSO ballpark surrounding the new city deck. The plans we will reveal at the DGI meeting are fantastic. Biggest downtown GSO development project ever.” Believe him.
Carroll didn’t use all caps or exclamation points. But with those kinds of adjectives, who needed them?
Now that he formally has announced a $140 million mixed development at Bellemeade and Eugene streets, it’s easy to understand his enthusiasm. Specifically, the project will consist of:
A 20-story office tower.
A 150-room Aloft Hotel that will feature a rooftop pool and 20-foot outdoor television screen.
280 apartment units.
A conference center, restaurants, retail shops and a small grocery store.
A parking deck.
If Carroll delivers what he is promising, it would represent a seismic shift in downtown’s revitalization.
For one thing, it would add revenue to the city and county tax rolls. As important a function as it serves, the current occupant of the site, the Sandhills Center mental health facility, generates none.
It would provide jobs — yes, mostly construction, service and hospitality — but new jobs all the same.
It would help to revitalize a part of downtown that is dark and sleepy on nights and weekends, even during baseball season.
Unlike suburban apartments and strip malls, it would not devour trees and green space. It merely would take already developed urban land and repurpose it.
The retail shops will be placed at street level, which invites foot traffic. Much of downtown does not attract pedestrians because there is nothing to see there as you stroll (South Elm Street being the biggest exception).
By adding a jolt of new energy to downtown as a place to live, work or play — or all three — it could help attract more young people to the city — and keep them here.
With its meeting and event spaces it would expand downtown’s capacity to hold conferences and smaller conventions (the Koury Convention Center would still corner the market on large events).
And it would help to fill a critical need for more downtown residents, an area in which Greensboro trails many of its peer cities in the state, with fewer than 3,000.
As always, there are questions: How many new hotels can Greensboro support? Is the demand for office space strong enough for Carroll to successfully lease a new office tower? Will the new restaurants and shops succeed? And how can city leaders encourage more affordable housing in future downtown projects?
Despite the hyperbole, Carroll usually does what he says he will do. And he is not prone to take gambles he doesn’t believe he will win. “Hey listen,” Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny said last week, “Roy likes his money. He’s not gonna make an investment unless it pencils out.”