The lay of the land

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brian_clareyby Brian Clarey

At Action Greensboro headquarters, a tasteful suite of rooms in a downtown corner walled off from the rest of center city by the hulking News & Record property and a methadone clinic, maps of the Downtown Greenway splay across long tables, with treatments for strategic intersection points on easels by the wall.

“Some people need to see it to get on board,” says Dabney Sanders of Action Greensboro and a project manager for the walkable loop that will encircle the heart of the city and the coalition of public and private money that will fund it.

You couldn’t build a decent office building for $30 million, the price tag for the trail. And make no mistake: This is a transformative project for downtown Greensboro, the kind of amenity a city like Greensboro — with its ample, cheap land and serious need for infill, is uniquely suited to construct.

The leg of the transformation happening around Eugene and Smith, near the recently activated corner where Deep Roots, Preyer Brewing and Crafted now hold court, is heralded by orange traffic barrels and much jackhammerage to make way for the green.

This impending trail greenway and a small park being created alongside it has effectively cut off a small spur of Battleground Avenue, which holds Smith Street Diner, Undercurrent restaurant and Zeto wine shop. There are four automotive garages in the neighborhood. Like the others, Autotrends has been here for decades.

“You were either lost or nosy if you were on this section of Battleground,” says John Hill, who owns the shop and a couple attendant businesses around it.

He’s been bobbing and weaving on this street for 30 years, first in a repair shop that specialized in the Nissan Z. It was long enough ago that people still sometimes called them Datsuns.

“They quit making the Z,” he remembers, “so we had to diversify or we’d of gone home.”

He opened the practice to Jeeps, figuring that specialization would make up for the lack of drive-by traffic.

He started selling motorcycles out of the lower storefront on Eugene Street, and after Hurricane Katrina, when gas prices tripled, he added scooters to the line.

Between the bikes and the specialized car repairs, Hill has done a brisk business on this forgotten street.

“Sixty percent of our clients are females who work in the office buildings,” he says. “We run a clean operation, but we don’t need prime real estate to do it.”

As the grass and concrete roll through, Hill will move his operations to a part of the city more appropriate for his enterprise, with ample land and street visibility. He’s resigned to it: The greenway is bigger than us all.

“As the owner of this real estate, we think it’s great,” he says. “As a business owner, I despise it.”