Developer and small-business owners clash on South Elm St.

by Jordan Green

A decision on a five-story restaurant and retail complex on South Elm Street ended in acrimony after midnight before the Greensboro City Council hastily adjourned its Jan. 21 meeting, with small business owners berating a city council member and the developer walking out of the room in a huff. The city is considering giving LindBrook Development Services up to $100,000 in incentive grants and selling the developer property that is currently used as a public parking space for $180,150 to allow it to build a five-story complex of restaurants, officesand corporate apartments featuring outdoor dining on the parking-lotside of the structure. The development would take four parking spacesout of circulation, and the city would lease the developer 11 spaces.That was the sticking point for a host of small business owners whosaid they otherwise supported the project. With the specter of businessclosings looming over downtown, business owners said having space fortheir clients to park is critical to their survival, and the city hasrefused to lease them space in the past. Some also resented thedeveloper receiving incentives after they struggled to build up theirproperty and business investments before the downtown renaissance tookplace.

“I didn’t have any incentives,” shouted Robin Davis,CEO of Mack and Mack, an apparel factory and retail business on SouthElm Street. At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, a developerhimself, had taken an unpopular stand in favor of Lindbrook, and heargued his point from the dais before Bill Heroy, owner of the buildingadjacent to the proposed project, shouted him down. “You, sir, are veryinsensitive,” Heroy said. District 4 Councilman Mike Barber added afriendly amendment to a motion to approve the development stipulatingthat the city would “address the parking issues with haste.” Themotion failed on a 5-4 decision, with Barber, Perkins, District 2Councilwoman Goldie Wells and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny votingin the minority. As council took a vote to table the matter until Feb.3, LindBrook Development Services President Jim Marshall stormed out.“They can find the parking,” he said. “I have plenty of other places toemploy my assets, believe me.” The parking lot has become a covetedpiece of real estate for the businesses — Natty Greene’s, the GreenBean, M’Coul’s and the Green Burro among them — that have created athriving cluster near the intersection of South Elm and McGee streets. “Thatparking lot is the lifeblood of downtown Greensboro,” said SimonRitchy, who owns the building that houses M’Coul’s and the Green Burro. John Bailey, co-owner of Bailey’s on Elm, sounded a direwarning. “Me and my sister have invested everything that we have tohave a small business in downtown Greensboro,” he said. “The onequestion that I’m asked by new clients is, ‘Where am I going to park?’…All the clients in the hair salon are mostly women, who come down thereby themselves, and they have to get harassed by homeless people.” Perkinssaid he preferred to err on the side of bringing new development. Hesaid when developer Roy Carroll completes work on the building nowknown as CenterPointe, the city needs to have the next major downtownbuilding project in progress. He argued that the parking lot would notbe there forever, and the city needs the additional tax revenue. “Greensboro’sgoing to grow up,” he said. A couple days after the meeting, Mathenysaid he hoped Marshall would reconsider the project. A specialmeeting was scheduled at Matheny’s request at council chambers in theMelvin Municipal Office Building on Tuesday at 5 p.m. on the incentivesrequest and proposed property sale, but a formal vote will not be takenuntil the council’s Feb. 3 meeting. Matheny has said several times thathe would like to get Acting Transportation Director Adam Fischer andthe business owners together to discuss to address the parkingshortage. Among the possible solutions mentioned by Mathenywere having the city lease daytime parking to the businesses, adding asecond level to remaining parking lot, and having the city leaseprivate parking behind the Cone Export and Commission Building on SouthGreene Street. Almost all the objections to the project involveparking, Matheny noted, rather than opposition to the building itself. “I was very adamant about, let’s not lose this development, and let’s deal with the parking situation,” he said.