City leaders, business owners and the public are all interested in finding a way to recreate downtown Greensboro as a vibrant destination. So many proposals address either what is needed or missing downtownSome ideas are good, some not so popular. Downtown Greensboro has wonderful restaurants, brewpubs and clubs. So why are so many people steering their cars away from Elm Street on Friday and Saturday nights? Perhaps the strongest area of concern is public safety.
This past year several incidents had Greensboro residents questioning the nightclubs and the safety of patrons. An incident in November left one dead and four injured after an argument led to a physical confrontation. This was not an isolated event.
As expected, city council was asked to jump in and create a solution to this problem. Council suggested cameras, lighting, curfews and security guards funded by the businesses who need them. These solutions may offer some additional safety to patrons, but would place a financial burden on both the city and downtown businesses.
After many years of negotiating business and political issues, I believe that the best solutions offer the most benefits for the least amount of cost. My solution for the downtown question can actually help current businesses and create an easier way for police to provide better crowd control and monitor patrons moving about downtown.
I propose we close Elm Street on Friday and Saturday evenings from Market to Washington streets.
This concept is being used in many cities such as Chicago, Hollywood, Fla. and Atlanta. Greensboro is not as large as any of these cities but the difference in population should be a point in our favor. Crowd control is easier to attain if the police have control points. Cars will not be cruising down Elm but will be parking in our parking decks for a fee and earning the city some money. The police can patrol the garages to make sure that people coming and going are not a threat to patrons or vehicles on the road. In addition to the parking decks, police can patrol on Segways and bicycles so that they become a visible deterrent to anyone up to shenanigans.
The real benefit will come to business owners. By closing the street to cars and opening it to residents, the city will allow people to move freely from business to business and create an atmosphere in which all local businesses will want to stay open later. We see this now during the tree lighting and on First Night. Rather than only having this atmosphere once or twice a year, we can achieve the same vibe each weekend.
Steering cars away from Elm Street will steer in a new era of prosperity for downtown Greensboro.
Michael Picarelli is a governor-appointed commissioner to the North Carolina Human Relations Commission, former chair of the Guilford County GOP and a resident dedicated to making Greensboro the best city for all its residents.