How do you activate a neighborhood?

In the case of LoFi on the north end of downtown Greensboro, it happened one storefront at a time, starting with Deep Roots and growing across the street to Crafted and Preyer Brewing. New traffic patterns and that stretch of the Downtown Greenway are finally starting to take shape. Downtown Winston-Salem’s Restaurant Row along Fourth Street benefited from a road diet and support from a strong downtown association, the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, and a legacy of political will on city council.

The neighborhood I’m choosing to call Morehead — under downtown Greensboro’s painted overpass, where Lee Comer’s massive Morehead Foundry has arisen — is a different matter entirely. Yet this is where Comer has called me to ask this very question.

The small district — once a homeless camp — is anchored by the piece of greenway that runs south through an iconic, gaslit tunnel, though it remains unconnected to the rest of the pedestrian loop. The rest of Morehead, cornered by Spring Garden Street and Freeman Mill Road, is easily traversable by car but a little hostile to foot traffic and will be until the greenway connects. A bike path that runs west on Spring Garden all the way to Holden Road forms its most viable artery.

Its lack of connectivity aside, other factors mitigate Morehead as a standalone district: compelling imagery in the overpass mural, created by Miami arts collective Primary Flight, and the concrete sofa along the greenway. And then there is the matter of capital investment, which was able to catalyze the Arts & Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem and Elm Street’s South End.

Morehead Foundry carries a price tag of at least $4.5 million spread between its farm-to-fork restaurant, a burger joint, a coffeeshop, a speakeasy and a massive event space. It’s got everything. Except, Comer admits, enough customers to sustain it.

“So,” she asks me again, “how do we activate a neighborhood?”

On the relative island of Morehead, there are no easy answers.

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  • fancygapva

    If they want customers they should get the word out about having the best cinnamon rolls bar none in the coffee=shop. I haven’t tried the rest of the fare but that alone will bring me back. I think UNC-G and Greensboro College haven’t really discovered this destination.

    • Kenny Roberts

      Thank you so much @fancygapva:disqus. The cinnamon rolls, the house-made “pop-tarts”, and so many other great options. We would love to be a frequent option for UNCG and Greensboro College students and are working hard to get them here. Thanks for the support and keep spreading the word!

  • MikeS

    The City should hold First Friday in the area to help promote it

    • Christian Yorkshire

      Since First Friday helps all the other businesses in the Downtown area? First, the City has no responsibility for First Friday as an event… that’s the role of DGI. Second, Lee’s business isn’t the only one downtown and definitely not the only one feeling a lack of support. Sure, First Friday events could help, but not if they remain the same, humdrum events that cripples so much of the downtown vibe. Those in community support roles in Greensboro tend to sit back and tout the same lip service they have been spreading for years. Vibrancy requires a constant influx of new and creative ideas… something the current community leaders fail at miserably.

  • Christian Yorkshire

    This should be a wake up call to everyone who has an interest in Downtown. For too many years, there has been too much talk with too little action coming from our community leaders. Greensboro’s downtown (and city as a whole) will never be able to compete with other cities if nothing is ever truly accomplished. Too many of our current community leaders are content to bask for years in the optimism they tout without working hard to rapidly show results. How to activate a neighborhood? From within. Local energy and work. And when those leading the community are the reason that progress is inhibited, then those same local individuals and businesses need to work together to change the structure of the leadership. I do not want Lee to fail, but when will enough individuals investing in downtown realize it is not the lack of investment but the lack of true investment from those claiming to be the leaders. Let us really look at what they have done for downtown.

  • Holly Harding

    I think the answer lies in the question being asked. Great food gets found. Great places *make* neighborhoods. On yelp, facebook, and now here it’s “the neighborhood needs to get it together,” “what’s everyone’s problem?” or “Greensboro is lucky we took this risk.” Is that the right line of thinking? Tell me how Hops or Bandito Bodega kill it? It certainly isn’t their bumpin’ locations. It’s careful growth, reasonable prices and simple, amazing food. I’m not seeing any of those here.