The warm glow of a sunset over a grassy plain can be a beautiful sight.
Unless it happens along a busy street within spitting distance of downtown.
Then it becomes a gap. A hole. A mystery. And an opportunity.
So it is has been with 14 empty acres that have lain fallow on East Market Street for what seems like forever. As the News & Record’s Richard Barron reported last week, that vast, vacant lot may finally become more than a big slice of the Great Wide Open on the center city’s doorstep. The property’s church owner, the United House of Prayer for All People, plans an ambitious mixed-use project called Downtown East. The vision for it includes 200 apartments, town homes, row houses and a grocery store as its retail anchor.
It’s an idea whose time apparently has finally come. The Washington, D.C.-based church participated in a study in 2007 that proposed a similar vision for the land, where Greensboro’s old main post office once stood. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation. Then nothing. People wondered why the church let all of that prime real estate just sit there for weeks, months and years.
Yet, the wait probably was a blessing. The Great Recession soon followed that economic study more than 10 years ago and may have jeopardized the success of the project, had it moved more quickly from conception to construction. The economy is much healthier now, and the pace of growth around and near downtown Greensboro may be as brisk as it ever has been.
The stars seem to be aligned. For some time now, N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold Martin has expressed his desire to see more quality development on East Market Street. In fact, he says the university once had conversations of its own with the church about that land for some collaborative use.
The greater community surrounding A&T has been an abiding concern for Martin. He has said he wants the university and the neighborhoods around it to grow and prosper together. Martin also wonders why East Market lacks the kind of growth that seems to happen automatically near many universities. This new project could help accomplish precisely that. It also happens to be near the site of A&T’s planned $90 million College of Engineering building.
Thankfully, old attitudes about the “other side of the tracks” are about to become passé. The Norfolk Southern rails and overpasses create a physical wall that long has been viewed as an unofficial border between black and white Greensboro, but if Downtown East succeeds, that worn paradigm will be obliterated.
Finally, the House of Prayer, whose Greensboro church is located on Dudley Street, across the street from the site, is a credible and serious player. When the church does something, it does well. Which is to say, the church has both strong leadership and a lot of money — as well as a resume of developments in other cities, including Charlotte, Boston and New York.
As for the community’s patience being rewarded, Lamentations 3:25 says it best: “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.”