Photos by Carolyn de Berry
Cities change every day, sometimes in subtle ways — vacant storefronts turn over one by one, or fresh newspaper boxes crop up on every corner — and sometimes in grand, sweeping movements.
Since we last formally checked in on the progress of downtown Greensboro about a year ago, the city’s central business district has undergone the initial rumbles of a seismic transformation.
Downtown Greensboro Inc. President and CEO Zack Matheny, who had come on the job just six months before our last piece ran, now has a full fiscal year under his belt, and he gushed at the progress.
He puts the number of dollars invested downtown in that timeframe at $168 million in new construction and upfit, including high-dollar projects from Roy Carroll, the Union Square campus, an upgrade to the Lincoln Financial Building and streetscape efforts.
Also in that time, DGI has moved offices from a tower suite to an Elm Street storefront, an unfulfilled plan he said he discovered in the nonprofit’s archives.
“In 1998, the board said we would have a downtown storefront by 2001,” Matheny said. “It was in the minutes!”
From his standing desk he can see Rock 92 and the new Bearded Goat bar, HQ Greensboro and the Fainting Goat distillery (no relation).
“I see the people with briefcases, the hipsters or whatever they call themselves,” Matheny said. “Everybody comes to this part of town.”
It’s here in the South End, he says, that downtown truly begins.
“Everyone asks me where the corner of Main and Main is in Greensboro,” he says. “I say it’s South Elm and Gate City Boulevard.”
And that is where we will begin our survey.
One of the challenges downtown Greensboro faces is geographical. While most cities’ central districts exist on a grid, Greensboro is, for now, mostly a strip: The length of Elm Street running from Gate City Boulevard down to Fisher Park describes it well enough for our purposes. Some new projects on the fringes this year have fleshed it out a bit, and Matheny says areas to the east and west of Elm will be activating over the next year or so.
Still, most of the action in the last 13 months has been on South Elm Street, where we begin our survey.
Gate City Boulevard
• The Union Square campus, a joint project between Cone Health, NC A&T University, UNCG, GTCC, the city, the county and the South Elm Development Group, opened its doors in September. The $34 million project is basically a nursing school that can also do staff training for Cone, with the capacity to hold about 500 nursing students and training for 2,800 employees.
• Duck Head has scaled down operations at the Mill just across the street, though the mural of the corporate logo is still on the side of the building. The retail store is no more, and the company dodged media requests from TCB several months back.
• Developer Andy Zimmerman bought the Greensborough Gateway Center on the northwest corner, where he has some renovations planned — he acquired a demolition permit in November. Meanwhile the building’s largest tenant, Home State Apparel, will be making their iconic “home” T-shirts in a new facility, though the location is not yet public.
• Greensboro developer Marty Kotis picked up a parcel a block west at Gate City Boulevard and Eugene Street — the old Brooks Lumber site and the adjacent Gulf station — in June 2016 and is generating ideas for its highest purpose.
• Lee Comer, best known for the Iron Hen, opened a massive food mall called Morehead Foundry, a $5 million development that contains Four Flocks & Larder farm-to-fork restaurant, the Baker & the Bean coffeeshop and bakery, Revolution Burger, an event space and, through a secret door in the coffeeshop, Hush speakeasy. It’s on Spring Garden Street at the greenway.
• The Forge an Andy Zimmerman project, relocated into the old Flying Anvil Space, including a new fence deal there.
600 block of South Elm Street
• PB& Java has been revamped beyond the PBJ concept to include performances and other artistic endeavors. Proprietors Charlie and Ruth Jones are still holding their Greensboro Grub in their place upstairs, but have hit financial straits and are raising money through a GoFundMe campaign to try to keep the building.
• Elsewhere living museum, after a large grant, upgraded the pair of buildings so that the place can remain open through the winter. They kicked off the grand reopening in September by placing a Ferris wheel on the street out front.
• Crawford’s Creations, a custom bakeshop, has moved to Coliseum Boulevard, leaving the storefront empty for now. And Alter Vapes has pulled out of its slim storefront as well.
• Timothy Smith of Chakras Day Spa has taken over Table 16 at the corner of Lewis and South Elm streets, restyling the interior and revamping the small bar.
• Since we last checked in, downtown developer Eric Robert bought 603 S. Elm St. at the corner of Lewis Street, and a bar, the Bearded Goat, has taken residence on the Lewis Street side. This part of the street itself has been undergoing sidewalk and street construction most of the year.
• Dixie Lock & Key has moved out of its longtime spot on the north side of West Lewis Street.
• Fainting Goat Spirits — the new, lone distillery in Guilford County — opened at 115 W. Lewis; its Emulsion gin and Tiny Cat vodka are available in ABC stores throughout the state.
• The Boxcar Bar & Arcade opened for business last week in the spot that once housed Lotus Lounge. Dustin Keene, owner of Common Grounds coffeeshop, announced plans for a music hall on the other side of the building, opening later this year if all goes well.
500 block of South Elm Street
• Downtown Greensboro Inc. has moved down from its tower suite on the north side of downtown and into a ground-floor space on the northwest corner of Lewis Street in a building owned, like many in this neighborhood, by Andy Zimmerman.
• Bloom, a consignment shop, opened next door and is open by appointment only. Emisare, a marketing company, is on the second floor, and RLF Communications rents on the third floor.
RLF Communications and The rest of the building — owned by Andy Zimmerman — remains empty.
• Jules Antiques owner Gary Brame announced his intentions to close the shop just as we conducted our last survey. The space is still empty.
• Coe’s Grocery has closed and Glitters is moving into the spot over the next month or so, down from its longtime location at the corner of Washington and Elm streets.
• We haven’t seen much action in this sub-space in the last 13 months. City Market, held for the last two years in the parking lot, has called it quits. And Wet Willie’s, the daiquiri bar that took over the Spice Cantina space, has yet to open its doors.
• The Cascade Saloon’s renovation, a joint project by Christman Capital Development Co. and Rentenbach Construction, moved ahead last month. Matheny said an entity like the Mast General Store in Winston-Salem might be a good fit for the place.
• Matheny says murals and lighting are in the works for the downtown underpass that connects South Elm with Davie Street to make it more inviting at night. And he says DGI is looking into making this section of the Norfolk Southern Line a “quiet zone,” meaning that the train horns will not sound there, but parameters for that designation on the Federal Railroad’s website would seem to make that impossible: “Under the Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222), locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.”
300 block of South Elm Street
• The newest thing at Hamburger Square is a humungous mural of Greensboro musician Joey Barnes, who has done an awful lot of things besides being Daughtry’s drummer.
• The W restaurant opened in the space built for Bin 33 after a complete remodel following Ham’s departure.
• Up McGee Street, Roundabout Hot Dog Co. opened in the fall.
• A new mural by Argentinian artist Francisco “Pastel” Diaz went up on the side of the McGee Street Lofts building in June.
• The Idiot Box moved to the basement of Geeksboro on Lawndale Drive. Matheny says an “Asheville-style attraction” is being courted for the space, but declined to provide specifics.
• Jerusalem Market opened a second location at the spot that was once Minj Grill and, most recently, housed Harlem Express.
• Also new is Glam & Glitz Fashion and Beauty Bar at 302 S. Elm St.
• Glitters is out next door, as previously mentioned. Building owner Sidney Gray lost one tenant and gained another, so it’s a wash.
• The Blu Martini also appears to be closed. And the Miller Furniture building is still empty.
• Across the street, the Table, an established bakery in Asheboro, opened a shop down the alley where Loaf and Simple Kneads used to be.
200 block of South Elm Street
• Tunazilla opened in the spot at 223 S. Elm St., then changed its name to the more appropriate Sushi Sapa.
• The Greensboro Chamber of Commerce moved from its old spot near the forthcoming Steven Tanger Center for Performing Arts to a ground-floor spot on the southwest corner of February One Place.
• Mack and Mack, one of the original businesses that came to Elm Street during its initial redevelopment in 2000, has pulled out of its longtime space after 16 years. The company will still design and manufacture women’s clothing under a new concept that is still being determined.
• The Kress Building, after Tavo restaurant and Inferno nightclub closed, still has no tenants on its ground floor.
• Matheny says the Elm Street Center is still being considered for a hotel.
February One Place
• Remedy Salon opened in the spot past Cincy’s.
• Matheny says he’s scouting possible tenants to operate a speakeasy in the basement space of the Old North State Bank & Trust. “It would be perfect there,” he said.
100 block of South Elm Street
• Downtown Fitness moved out of the building at the corner of Market Street.
100 Block of North Elm Street
• Gray Legal has taken over the space at 108 and polished off the façade.
• Longtime lunch spot Venice Italian restaurant closed.
• Lincoln Financial, Matheny said, has been reclaiming office space in its building and the former Bank of America building across the street, which it also controls. He named a few notable former tenants, including Greensboro lawyer Henry Isaacson, who moved their offices so Lincoln Financial employees could move in. Shares of the company have moved from a low of 32.65 in February 2016 to a close last week of 69.3.
• El Nuevo Mexican restaurant, run by a Korean couple and home to one of Eric Ginsburg’s favorite burritos, closed in 2016.
200 block of North Elm Street
• This block belongs to Center City Park and Center Pointe apartments, the only span where nothing has changed in the last 13 months.
300 block of North Elm Street
• Most of the long 300 block of North Elm on the east side has been razed for the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts. Matheny said the site would begin breaking asphalt in the second quarter of this year. When the fences come down, open spaces in the plan will allow for pedestrian flow and connectivity to the Lebauer Park area and museum district.
• As mentioned, the Chamber of Commerce has moved out of the old brick building at the edge of the Tanger center property. And furniture store Blvd is no longer operating out of the spot at 348.
400 block of North Elm Street
• LaRue changed its name to LaRue Elm and moved, befittingly, to North Elm Street in the spot once taken by Ganache bakery, a huge upgrade from the former slot on Greene Street, but also big shoes to fill.
• Wrangler, across the street, has launched a Jeansboro campaign celebrating the city’s denim history by, among other initiatives, placing decorative pairs of jeans in strategic locations around downtown. (I have been telling people that they are life-size replicas of Shaquille O’Neal’s Wranglers).
True, downtown Greensboro is laid out like a strip, but small pockets of the area have been busy for a long time, and others are still being activated.
LeBauer Park/Church Street/Museum District
• LeBauer Park itself is a significant addition to the north end of downtown, a multifaceted green space with activities for kids and adults, a performance space, quick-serve restaurants Noma and Ghassan’s, and a massive piece of public art, “Where We Met” by Janet Echelman, now down for the winter but returning to its lofty perch in late March or early April, depending on the weather. The park provides connectivity between the Greensboro Historical Museum, the Cultural Arts Center and the Central Library back on Church Street. And crucially, it creates connectivity from Center City Park, and combats the curse of the strip by adding an east-west axis of public space.
• The Greensboro Cultural Center has a new performance space, the Van Dyke Theater, named for longtime UNCG dancer and instructor Jan Van Dyke, who left $1 million for its construction in her estate.
• The Greensboro Children’s Museum is renovating its lobby with a water feature and tech center, and is transforming its parking lot into a picnic area and playground.
• Down Davie, the News & Record announced it would cease printing operations at its Greensboro facility, leading speculation that the site will soon be for sale.
• On the Davie side of the N&R property, a new vape shop called the Refinery opened in the summer.
• On the Church Street side, Marty Kotis purchased the Dorothy Bardolph Building, which currently houses human services including one of the city’s methadone clinics, and is planning a residential development.
• And the spot at the corner of Church and East Market Street, a former luxury auto dealership that long ago housed Kit Rodenbough’s store Design Archives is under construction and will become the Cadillac Service Garage event space.
• The old Gate City Motors dealership remains dormant on the Church Street side, but Thomas Tire opened in the building on the Murrow Street side.
• The Flatiron storefront appears to be for sale again after becoming a hookah spot.
• Artist Kendall Doub added a couple more murals to his portfolio in this neighborhood: “The Wanderer,” on the Showfety Building’s Davie Street side, and “She Waits” at the corner of Friendly and Davie.
Matheny said that the Ballpark District was “next” in terms of neighborhood activation. At the core of it is developer Roy Carroll’s megaproject starting to come together across the street, several planned residential towers and hotels.
“It’s time to go vertical,” Matheny said. “There’s nowhere to go but up.”
This area’s activation also counteracts the “strip” curse; the Bellmeade east-west axis is pedestrian friendly and connects with the Elm Street corridor.
• Roy Carroll’s signature development takes up almost as much sidewalk space as NewBridge Bank Park, a combination of residential, retail office and a hotel, that represents $60 million in downtown investment. There’s major visible construction progress in the last year after a long delay.
• A third hotel from the “boutique chain” Aloft was announced in December on North Eugene Street across from the southern side of the ballpark.
• Local House Bar, just outside the left field fence, struggled for years to sell booze next to the ballpark. Timothy Smith of Chakras and Table 16, has taken over the spot and is looking to revamp the site after he gets Table 16 going, probably right around the time baseball season kicks in.
• Center City Church, under construction the last time around, is up and running.
LoFi’s activation is old news, but in the last few months construction has halted traffic on Eugene Street to one lane between Deep Roots Market and the Preyer/Crafted complex. That’s the Downtown Greenway coming through, though, which should transform the area below Fisher Park for generations to come.
• Joymongers brewery opened in the spring, offering a different take on the neighborhood brewpub than Preyer across the street, as well as a slew of new parking spots.
• Contributing to the beer culture of LoFi, BeerThirty bottleshop opened around the corner on Greene Street in April.
• I’m sure I overlooked plenty of things that have happened in downtown Greensboro since December 2015. Let me know what I missed at [email protected]
There’s more — lots more — to come. Matheny said that downtown Greensboro could see another $300 million in investment.
“Tell me where, in a two-year span, you’ve got close to $500 million invested in a 99-block radius?” he asked.
Besides the projects already described or alluded to, there is early development in the area southwest of the ballpark, now a tangle of downtown street loops and partially used lots, and the northeast corner where Summit Avenue leads to Church Street.
On Matheny’s list for the coming year is public transportation that can move people to the different areas of the sometimes daunting downtown area.
“I wonder if Winston-Salem would sell me their [rubber-tire] trolley,” Matheny wondered aloud.
But the biggest challenge is residential. Urban planners generally cite a threshold of 10,000 downtown residents to achieve the sort of critical mass that can trigger and sustain growth, and downtown Greensboro currently stands at 2,600, Matheny said.
“We are at less than 1 percent,” he said. “That is not a good number. I’d like to get it to 2 percent.”
By 2018, he said that downtown Greensboro should have 3,000 residents, about 1 percent of the city’s population, including hotel rooms — “A lot of people forget that hotels count as residential,” he said. “That’s called ‘heads in beds.’”
And he said DGI will launch a residential feasibility study this year.
“We need some statistics of what the city can absorb, what it might hold,” he said. “Right now there is no inventory, no supply. There is only demand.”
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