We unloaded a huge amount of data in this week’s cover story (“Who owns downtown?”, beginning on page 20) concerning downtown real estate in both Greensboro and Winston-Salem, and the players who control most of the action.
There’s a lot to unpack there, but the most significant item, I think is a comparison of leadership in the two cities’ downtown districts.
Since 2001, Allen Joines has manned the mayor’s seat in Winston-Salem. Greensboro has had five different mayors in that same period.
Jason Thiel has been president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, the group that oversees the district, since 2006. Its Greensboro corollary, Downtown Greensboro Inc., has had at least four, if we include current interim President Cyndy Hayworth, and the group is currently seeking the next one.
And while the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, the transformative project on the east side of downtown Winston-Salem, has benefited from years of steady stewardship and growth, similar projects in downtown Greensboro — Roy Carroll’s mud pits near NewBridge Bank Park come to mind — don’t seem to be able to gain ground as quickly or successfully.
To be fair, there are more factors than just pure leadership that fuel Winston-Salem’s resurgence. To be even more fair, city council terms are four years in Winston-Salem to Greensboro’s two, allowing leaders to develop and emerge.
There is less political engagement in Winston-Salem — fewer than 10,000 people basically chose the current council, most of which was settled in the 2013 primary. Fortunately, it’s a benevolent sort of totalitarianism.
Citizens of the Triad know that Winston-Salem leapfrogged Greensboro years ago in terms of downtown development. The city’s grassroots culture seems to benefit from the corporate interests — the only real money in any town — rather than be smothered by it.
Oh, there’s hope for Greensboro — the nanotech center is up and running; there’s a downtown performance district coming online and new corners of the urban core are activated, it seems, every few months.
But it’s telling that a lot of the people who ushered in those things aren’t around anymore.
And the irony is not lost on us that, while Greensboro leaders are quick to tout economic and cultural successes in cities Greenville, SC; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Tampa and even Cleveland, there is a fine example of urban growth just 23 miles to the west.