Greensboro City Councilman Tony Wilkins is watching his High Point Road projects come to life. He was a huge proponent and spokesperson for changing High Point Rd’s name to Gate City Boulevard and that has happened. Even though it won’t be official until July 1, the street signs have already been changed.

Wilkins has also worked on creating signs to promote the corridor’s ethnic restaurants and naming it International Restaurant Row. Wilkins pushed for the city to allow $25,000 to develop signs and help brand a three-mile portion of Gate City Boulevard. The signs are to be placed on I-40 to attract travelers to the area. Wilkins was quoted more than once saying you could take a trip around the world in a three mile stretch of High Point Road.

City staff created a banner for the area and, according to a city spokesperson, the city is waiting for Wilkins to give approval and direction. A little over a month ago, Wilkins announced on the International Restaurant Row Facebook page that he was, “accepting ideas for the International Restaurant Row banner. Email any ideas you want to submit to tony. Please submit by June 1st.” According to city officials, nobody submitted any ideas for the banner.

Wilkins, like many others before him, is trying to change the image of High Point Road and that isn’t an easy task. For decades it’s been one of Greensboro’s best places to get into trouble. It has always been a place with a strong criminal element that has been hard to scrub off.

In the 1980s it was littered with sexually oriented businesses, drugs and crime. High Point Road hosted several massage parlors, strip clubs, adult movie theatres and adult bookstores. One of the biggest busts in the city’s history resulted when law enforcement officers raided three adult businesses that operated under the same roof. In the early 1990s, Guilford County deputies spent a year working undercover at the location and had arranged to trade drugs for weapons with the manager at Teaser’s Bar and Lounge located at 3206 High Point Road. Teaser’s Bar and Lounge shared the same building with Movie Mates Adult Bookstore and the Exotic Massage Parlor. The businesses were annoyingly located directly across the street from Koury Convention Center and made Greensboro appear to be a place that allowed anything. The investigation resulted in the seizure of more than 30 guns, over $15,000 and cocaine.

By the mid 1990s, the crack cocaine industry had parts of High Point Road held hostage. No other location in the area had more criminal infestation than the Coliseum Inn. Years of abuse, death, drugs and depression lingered around the Inn until the day it was demolished.

While massage parlors and the drug-infested Coliseum Inn are long gone, others stepped up to fill the void. Shootings, drugs and lawlessness remained in the area. The venues simply changed. Places like Atlantis Cafe and Alexander Devereux’s were well known for the violence and drug use that happened at their businesses. Even the police have found it hard to stay out of trouble on High Point Road.

On February 1, 2005, a well-known drug dealer in Greensboro, Sean Watson, was indicted in federal court on charges of possessing and selling large amounts of cocaine.

According to Jerry Bledsoe’s Cops in Black and White, on April 8, 2005, a DEA officer called the Special Intelligence Division of the Greensboro Police Department to report that an examination of Watson’s cell phone revealed that current Deputy Chief of Police James Hinson’s personal cell phone number had been programmed into Watson’s phone. The DEA was especially concerned because this was the second time that Hinson’s telephone numbers had been in the possession of major drug dealers when they were arrested.

Investigators learned that Watson and Hinson became acquainted at Alexander Devereux’s located at 2800 High Point Rd. Hinson was cleared of any wrongdoing and ironically is currently the Deputy Chief that supervises the area. But Hinson wasn’t the only police officer suspected of finding trouble along High Point Road either.

In late 2007, three Greensboro Police Officers were suspended due to allegations that claimed the officers picked up an off duty female Greensboro Police Officer at Four Season’s Nightclub (located in the heart of Gate City Boulevard) and sexually assaulted her in a police vehicle. Criminal charges were not filed but the officers faced discipline and demotions for the incident.

Today, several buildings that once hosted restaurants sit hopelessly abandoned and the criminal element still lingers. Shootings, drugs and prostitution are still a concern for the area. Hotels surrounding Gate City Boulevard are well known by police as places for violence, drugs and prostitution. Greensboro’s mayor is aware of the problems too. “I think we have to address the underlying issues of the criminal element that exists on Gate City Boulevard. We can’t expect a few street signs to improve it. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan said.

Over the past year, there have been 299 arrests made on Gate City Boulevard. The arrests include the following: burglary, gambling, fraud, narcotics, disorderly conduct, assault, weapon charges, sex crimes, and prostitution. According to crime statistics, crack appears to be the drug of choice for the area.

Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott told YES!

Weekly that he hopes the new name will “spark a renewed interest in the area. With greater business growth the opportunities for unoccupied businesses falling victim to crime is lessened.” !