This sort of development in the northeast has been on the table for decades, its halting progress spurred, Councilman Jamal Fox says, by demographic shifts and changing traffic patterns.
“Everybody started using 29 to get to DC and Virginia,” he says. “And we got folks stuck in commutes out there that have to go through town to get anywhere in our city.”
He moves around the maps that line his downtown office, repeating the mantra — SIF — that guides his efforts.
“SIF,” he says. “Strategic, intentional and focused. What I would hate is if [the loop] were to come through and we weren’t prepared for it.”
By the time the loop is finished in 2022, it will affect thousands of acres along the north side of town, particularly pockets of undeveloped land at the Battleground interchange and the raw terrain that will eventually be traversed by Cone Boulevard.
Fox’s vision includes a central park off Cone with athletic fields and trails that build on the existing Keeley Park, new residences and commercial properties.
“I believe this area can hold four hotels,” Fox says, angling a map of a planned infill development so it catches the light. It’s slated to be built in the wedge formed by Cone and 29: a couple hotels, a retail strip mall, a movie theater, a bowling alley.
“I said, ‘We need a bank out here,’” Fox says. “We need some meaningful projects. We have the rooftops. We’re trying to make it an entertainment area — you can shop here, you can play here, you can invest here, you can live here.
“You show me another geographic location in Greensboro that has this great of an opportunity,” he continues.
Investors have been online for years now, waiting for the roads, he says.
Near the eastern leg of the loop, in the crook where Business 85 meets 840 and Interstate 40, the McConnell Center, a 140-acre industrial park, broke ground in 2008. Its only current tenant is an O’Reilly Auto Parts distribution center. Developer Roy Carroll built Innisbrook Village Apartments just across the street, and Marty Kotis has a 28-acre parcel near where the loop runs into Wendover — by 2022 it will be a $25 million shopping center. Greensboro holding company AnnaCor Properties has 42 undeveloped acres nearby.
The city owns property out there too: the Sportsplex, the wastewater treatment plant and the White Street Landfill. The Cone extension will run right through another parcel that, right now, is nothing but trees.
In all, the Greensboro Urban Loop should soak up about $1 billion — more if implementation doesn’t keep up with inflation. The leg running along the northeast corner from Wendover to Highway 29 comes with a price tag of $112 million, paid for with state DOT funds. But the Cone Boulevard Extension, with a relatively low cost of $11 million, remains unfunded. It’s the final hurdle in the rejuvenation of this corner of Fox’s district.
“When you talk about transportation funds,” the councilman lets loose a long exhale. “That’s a tough one. It’s a city project, but at the same time it’s a state road.”
The Cone interchange isn’t scheduled until after that section of the loop is completed in 2018, and will perhaps be active by 2022, 70 years after the Babcock Plan was crafted to bring Greensboro into the modern world of automotive transportation.
The original architects of the plan knew they likely wouldn’t be around to see the fruits of their handiwork, but the young councilman, who turns 28 this month, thinks he might see the results of his labor.
“I plan to still be here in 50 years,” he says.