The wish list
Maybe it’s because I’m approaching 30 and feeling a sense of urgency, or it could be the short amount of time since my last detailed accounting of development in downtown Greensboro, but even with the long list of changes above, progress feels slower in some regards this year.
The initial excitement, which seemed to burst from so many mouths 12-18 months ago, has waned. When news comes about a planned brewery, instead of celebrating like Carolina Panthers’ fans this season, people are more inclined to ask if the market is already oversaturated here. Several businesses closed in the last year, and some of the city’s bigger projects — most notably the downtown performing arts center — show minimal progress.
Some of that will change by next year; think of LeBauer Park and Union Square Campus, and with any luck, some genuine movement on the Downtown Greenway. But other big projects, like turning Greene Street into a two-way stretch, have been forgotten as far as the public is concerned (though Matheny swears that one is nearing the final approval stages and is imminent).
Maybe we’ll see Lee Comer’s Spring Garden Street plans, Roy Carroll’s Bellemeade Village and Marty Kotis’ beer garden come to fruition in 2016. And it may be wishful thinking, but there’s at least a chance we’ll see some action on the Cascade Saloon as well.
Yet downtown Greensboro is not without its victories. It would be hard to argue that the biggest coup d’état is the National Folk Festival, a thoroughly enjoyable experience that showcased dozens of artists as well as the city’s core.
One of the festival’s accomplishments was its ability to spread people out throughout downtown rather than clogging the main thoroughfare, something that the center city needs more of in general. For the same reason, I’m particularly stoked on LaRue and the LoFi sub-neighborhood for helping to expand the pockets of culture in downtown.
The same is true of the much-heralded changes on West Lewis Street. And though I’m partial to plans for a distillery there, if Andy Zimmerman can convince Bestway or another grocer to open in the former Lotus Lounge, or if a mid-sized music venue winds up in the building (something he’d like to see happen), either would be a true game-changer.
There are a few specific things I called for in previous years, including some that are happening besides the aforementioned growth off South Elm. More vacant storefronts on the crucial 300 block of South Elm Street are occupied, including increased residential upstairs, and that’s huge. Downtown boasts more public art, and more is on the way. And though I still want a burrito place like Cosmic Cantina, I realized that the Korean burrito at El Nuevo Mexican Grill near Urban Grinders is fantastic and cannot be overlooked.
Some ideas almost came to fruition, but stopped short — something at Gate City Motors, as I suggested in 2013, or a possible skatepark downtown (it’s going in the Latham Park area, so not too far away). DGI had talked about a possible culinary school downtown that didn’t pan out, and more significantly, the organization went through so many roster changes I doubt most readers can keep track.
Several specific suggestions pitched last go-round continue to be ignored; there’s too many surface parking lots, too many vacant storefronts with absentee landlords and nowhere near enough affordable housing. But the most glaring difference between downtown Greensboro today in the place it could be, needs to be, is something else I raised last year — nobody is learning from downtown Winston-Salem.
In the last few years, downtown Winston-Salem has only continued to raise the bar. It beat Greensboro in attracting a distillery, not to mention a chocolate factory, as well as Wise Man Brewing. And though we called for a barcade at least three times in the last year, the one that opened — Camel City BBQ Factory — is in Winston-Salem, too. There’s Bailey Park now, and restaurants like the Honey Pot and Side Bar, not to mention a bunch of awesome recurring festivals.
It’s not that Winston-Salem is better; don’t get me started down that road. It’s that Greensboro, much as I love this city that I’ve made my home, seems to be lagging behind.