City leaders want to change the names Lee Street and High Point Road, a major east-west connector route in the city which at one time was part of U.S. 29/70, to Gate City Boulevard. While many believe this will help spur economic development, I believe it will make no difference. Disinvestment or reinvestment is more than a name change. In 2010 I wrote the following two posts, published in their entirety below, to reflect on where the city and the road itself was. In the interim there have been some major changes, and this name change is another. My apologizes for dead links and anything that was blatantly incorrect. This is me writing prior to grad school, as a young citizen in the crux of the Great Recession, frustrated at the loss of a neighborhood that was once a neighborhood of major promise. Or has it been lost?
Sunday morning this story was on the front page of the Greensboro News & Record. It told me the details of something I already knew. My neighborhood is seriously on life support. Or not. The area I’m referring to is the High Point Rd. corridor, a street I can easily walk to within 30 minutes and drive to in less than 5 minutes.
The article touches on some history of the road’s development; I’ll add my own context for you out-of-towners. Lee Street and High Point Rd are essentially the same road. (The changeover happens on the west end of the Greensboro Coliseum complex). Lee Street extends due east past UNCG, serves as the south border of Downtown Greensboro and extends east through mostly residential areas to US 29 and then peters out just past I-85 Business in Southern Guilford County. High Point Rd goes southwest from the Coliseum area, passing under I-40 just at the Four Seasons Town Centre/ Koury Convention Center complex and through a series of strip malls, some with nationally known big box stores, which end, at the city limit at Groometown Rd. The road continues through the Adams Farm and Sedgefield pseudo-suburan areas, through Jamestown, past my own high school and Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) and ends up as Lexington Ave in High Point proper. I’ve never driven it all the way through High Point, but I assume it goes on to Lexington, as it was once signed as US 29/70, a route that currently follows I-85 Business through High Point and goes on to follow and parallel I-85 through Charlotte.
According to the article, Four Seasons Town Centre has survived General Growth Properties bankruptcy with flying colors. Lots of small ethnic owned and themed businesses are mingled in with national chains Borders, World Market, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Anna’s Linens, Office Depot, Burlington Coat Factory, Aldi , Big Lots,Toys R Us, TJ Maxx and a number of restaurant chains, including one of our two Krispy Kreme stores.
Not only do we still have still have chain stores, but we also regained an 18-screen movie theater and managed to maintain it despite a shooting there in January 2009. If it weren’t for strong NIMBYism in our neighborhood, Wal-Mart could be walking distance, as well as a number of other big box chains that instead have set up shop on the nearby Wendover Avenue corridor over the last nearly 20 years.
Yet it’s the shootings, lootings and other organized crime that the article highlights and poses a problem for many people. It’s also the number of shady businesses such as strip clubs, unkempt motels, sweepstakes parlors and other legal gambling enterprises that have stepped in where all grocery stores have stepped out.
I’ll note here that there is a Harris Teeter on High Point Rd still, but it’s in the Adams Farm Shopping center area, an area that considers itself its own town, despite being annexed into Greensboro for water, sewer and trash and attending Jamestown-area public schools. There’s also a Food Lion in Jamestown proper. A former Lowes Foods sits vacant as storage space for the chain at the corner of S. Holden Rd, across from the Borders and next to the TJ Maxx. One of my good friends worked at the replacement store in Jamestown and he told stories of co-workers who’d been mugged and high numbers of theft at the previous location. Our closest food options are three Food Lions, one on the southeast side of the coliseum on Coliseum Drive in the Glenwood neighborhood, one on S. Holden Rd, down the street from the Borders and one on Groometown Rd, down the street from Anna’s Linens. However, we used to have a Harris Teeter where the Big Lots is and a Kroger where Bed, Bath and Beyond is. Winn-Dixie, a completely defunct chain, was a mile south of the S. Holden Rd. Food Lion.
There are solutions to the dearth of vacant space, lack of food options and crime issues. Amongst the smaller businesses on High Point Rd. a community watch has sprung up. The city of Greensboro has an active redevelopmement plan which included all stakeholders, including nearby residents like myself. The focus is on creating livable streets and urban villages along the corridor.
However, what it boils down to is making sure with all of our well meaning, we do not push out the businesses and residents that create character. A portion of the current plan on the Lee Street side takes significant space away from the nearby historic Glenwood neighborhood. Glenwood is a multicultural working-class neighborhood just south of UNCG. It was one of Greensboro’s first suburbs to the south of downtown when it was built at the turn of the 20th century. However, it does not have a formal historic neighborhood designation. Many homes are ripe for tearing down for dorms and student apartments. The UNCG master plan would like to do just that, while adding an urban village element.
Yet, those of you who’ve read this blog before know I subscribe to the belief that it’s not just expensive stores and shiny new downtown areas that make a good neighborhood. As we continue to flesh out this plan (the I-40 to Groomtown Rd. corridor plan has not been finalized yet), let’s strive to maintain all character. Let’s find a way to reconcile the current ethnic and working class character of many parts of the street, with the desire to have a walkable interface and plenty of room for the university, mall complex and other areas to grow. In my next post, I’ll be offering my wish list for the area.
Fifteen years ago, I had a dream of living near High Point Rd. At the time, Wendover Ave. was still being built up and High Point Rd hadn’t degraded to the level it is at today. It kinda came true when My parents divorced and Mom and I moved into an apartment just off of Holden Rd. Those of you who read part 1 of this post and/or know Greensboro know just about where we are in relation to High Point Rd. I was so happy to be across the street from the grocery store, and near the mall and the brand new Borders. However, I was also freaked out by the new Koury Convention Center tower. I didn’t understand why the tower was built so far away from downtown. Even at nine, going on ten, I had some sense of neighborhoods and place and I felt like this building was not only scary, but a part of an urban future I didn’t want. Once again, these were my nine, almost ten-year old thoughts.
Fast forward to last night (Monday August 8th). I’m addressing the city council in support of a measure that would support a five year plan to create sustainable communities. Sustainable communities, as many of us know, are communities that merge traditional neighborhood values(eyes on the street, collaboration) with new and old urbanist principles of public transit access, walkability, mixed-uses of buildings, public third spaces and a variety of housing types. In short, the big downtown style building that used to scare and intrigue me is really now a vital part of the vision I have for my neigborhood.
So what do I want specifically?I know the corridor plan has some of these things included, but my ideal vision for my own neighborhood is centered around creating a true town-center atmosphere at Four Seasons Town Centre, which sits behind the Koury Convention Center.
Locals actually refer to the three-story enclosed shopping area as Four Seasons Mall or simply the mall, due to the fact that it’s the only enclosed mall left and it was just simply Four Seasons Mall when it opened in the mid-70′s. Also, there is the hotel complex, which has several restaurants, a nightclub, massive event space and numerous hotel rooms under one roof. PART also has its second Greensboro stop here ( the other stop is at the Depot downtown and near the airport at their hub). GTA goes almost straight to downtown from this point as well, which connects to remaining downtown areas.
I envision turning one of the parking lots, possibly the back one, into a deck and replacing the front parking area with some multi-family units, preferably a rowhouse community, with maybe one or two buildings of standard apartments. There would also be a sliding scale of rent values, based on submitting tax returns and payroll information to determine a fair rental value that is truly 1/3 of a person’s income. A person would commit to a minimum rent amount, but this would also keep too many units from being rented at levels that don’t reflect our true market value. In addition, I would like to see a grocery chain return to a strip out-parcel that sits on the southwest side of the property. It most recently housed Comp USA, but when I was a little kid, it was a Winn-Dixie store. (The store moved down Holden Rd, then shut down when the entire chain shut down in North Carolina a few years ago). It would also be nice to have some park space on the property too.
In addition to the retrofit of the Four Seasons area, I would like to see proper sidewalks and crosswalks all down High Point Rd. at key intersections, in-filling some underused parking lots with housing options similar to what is going on at Four Seasons Town Centre, the return of grocery to one of the three abandoned areas (an Aldi and a Bed Bath and Beyond replaced what was once a Harris Teeter and a Kroger) and a both a bus lane and a bike lane down both sides of the street extending to Jamestown. Also, I want the legitimate ethnic businesses(stores and restaurants that serve all ages, not the gambling parlors,strip clubs and other questionable establishments that have appeared), to have a hand and continue to operate on the street.
Although these initiatives will take time and money, thankfully, I live in a city that has come to recognize the economic values of redeveloping our city to be more sustainable and also more friendly to all people and not just cars, big name developers and people with disposable income who can move into New Urbanist style areas.
If you are familiar with the area, what are your suggestions for improvements? In addition, what can we do to make sure we don’t gentrify this area as we clean it up?