An outsider might find it unusual that the city of Greensboro has a ribbon-cutting of sorts scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at 4, the moment that the 400 block of Eugene Street reopens.
Like waving to the train as it passes through town, it does seem a little bit provincial to hold a photo op for the reopening of one block of a street. But it’s been nearly three months now that Eugene Street has been closed due to serious infrastructure upgrades on the 400 block and, a little further north, the installation of the Downtown Greenway. And there are only so many ways to get to the LoFi district from the center of downtown.
The proliferation of orange cones — which stretches back more than a year if we include the work on the 600 block — has hurt the businesses on that stretch of Eugene and, behind it, the short spur of Battleground Avenue that connects with Smith Street. It has never been so easy to find a parking spot in front of Smith Street Diner or in the Deep Roots Market parking lot.
The ceremony is as much for these businesses as it is for the thousands of cars and pedestrians that have been caught in this snarl.
But the fact is that there hasn’t been this much construction — and projects of this magnitude — in downtown Greensboro since the ballpark was built in 2004, a marvelous disruption that changed the trajectory of a downtown resurgence that was starting to wane.
The businesses along that corridor notwithstanding, the construction on Eugene has already had a positive effect on traffic, slowing rushing motorists in part by adding much-needed parking in several places. As the new hotel rises on its western flank, downtown becomes more of a grid than a strip, which is all part of the plan. And the Downtown Greenway itself will add a layer of connectivity to the entire piece.
But tell that to the business owners in the dead zone.
In this context, the opening ceremony makes sense: an acknowledgement of the pain felt by the entire neighborhood and everyone who needs to drive through it, but also a celebration that another wave of the pain necessary for growth has passed and an invitation to use what we’ve built.
Even an outsider can understand that.