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.