Development picks up on northern edge of downtown Greensboro

by Eric Ginsburg

One of the mantras greenway supporters repeat as they extol the benefits of a greenway loop around downtown Greensboro — that it will spur private development along its path — is coming true even before the project is completed. Along the northern edge of downtown, where only a portion of the greenway has been built so far, several development projects are planned, in the works or already finished.

It’s not a done deal yet, but if everything goes as planned, a fine-dining restaurant and bar will officially sign on the former Steele & Vaughn television-repair business by Aug. 1. The building is on Eugene Street across from the Greenway at Fisher Park apartments and Deep Roots Market, two recent developments on downtown’s edge.

“They’re looking at a total new concept on that property that would certainly be an added revitalization project to downtown Greensboro,” said Brett Schulman, a commercial real estate broker at Simpson, Schulman & Beard who represents the owners.

The property, which is about 12,000 square feet and is on the market for $500,000, would likely include outdoor seating and lounge areas, Schulman said. The likely buyer owns a higher end restaurant and bar in the Triad, and Schulman said he’s heard it gets “rave reviews.”

Interest in the property has been high particularly because of the Greenway at Fisher Park apartments, Schulman said. Now the complex’s owners are erecting an adjacent apartment building, Greenway at Stadium Park, across the street.

Running along Eugene Street south of Smith Street, property owner Jim Jones said each of the 70 units will either face downtown or the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ stadium. Demolition of the old North State Chevrolet building is already underway, and the four-story apartment building is scheduled to open next summer.

The new apartments will be slightly bigger and more expensive than their counterparts across the street, Jones said, but will share some amenities, though Stadium Park will have its own pool and rooftop bar.

While the greenway can take some credit for encouraging the two complexes, that borrow their names from the loop, Jones said he and his brother began working to develop their properties almost a decade ago due in part to the incoming Grasshoppers’ stadium. The greenway just sealed the deal, he said.

“This really has been our goal all along, to develop the property,” Jones said, adding that his family has been invested in downtown for 70 years and that this project is “just turning the page.”

Work on the greenway itself is coming soon to the area, extending a strip that is already finished and adding a cornerstone and a park. Action Greensboro Director April Harris said the greenway has particularly strong potential to coax development where it passes by land that is underutilized.

“It follows the availability of developable land,” Harris said, adding that the type of projects varied by area too.

The northwest cornerstone to the greenway, along Summit Avenue near Prescott Street, recently began construction and will be completed by the end of 2013, Harris said. The strip of greenway connecting the site to the completed central portion and another leg of the path along the northeastern edge of downtown are in the works and should be completed by summer 2015. Harris said a small, triangular park between the incoming Stadium Park apartments and Deep Roots on Eugene Street will be built as part of the greenway’s development during the same time period. Jones and others said it will help improve the area and encourage walkability.

Action Greensboro estimates that about $108 million in development is already planned along the partially-completed greenway, the bulk of it attributed to about $80 million planned for the South Elm redevelopment near Lee Street. Along the northern edge, about $24 million of private investment is already projected. Those numbers only include Deep Roots, the Jones’ two greenway apartments and a new State Employees Credit Union building slotted for the northeast edge of the greenway near Fisher and Summit Avenues.

Other upcoming projects nearby will also alter the landscape. Although plans for a small bowling alley behind Westerwood Tavern fell through, developer Dawn Chaney has plans for two buildings by the bar on Guilford Avenue. Her properties are immediately off of the western edge of the greenway and a short distance from the northwest cornerstone.

“We are in the process of putting contracts on the white building,” said Chaney, who is also the chair of the board for Downtown Greensboro, Inc. “It will be service industry. There will be some food, healthy food. We hope to have them [open] in September after the up-fit.”

The white building runs along the street while a second shares the parking area and would ideally become a restaurant — maybe a breakfast/lunch place — once a tenant is found, Chaney said. She’s putting in a deck that will stretch the length of the white building so people can sit outside and enjoy the greenway. For her, and the incoming business owners, that’s what it’s all about.

“The people who are leasing are looking forward to the greenway being finished because they realize [it] will enhance their business,” Chaney said. “I think it will be a destination spot when the greenway’s finished. “ Transformations at other nearby lots are also on the way. On North Spring Street between Smith Street and Battleground Avenue, 2.7 acres went on the market about six weeks ago. The 15 contiguous lots, with an asking price of $1.2 million, are just outside of downtown. Listing agent Vince Howard with Brown Investment said it would likely become apartments or an office building.

“We’ve had interest from multi-family type developers and some office users/developers,” he said. “For a piece of land, we’ve gotten pretty good interest so far in the little bit of time it’s been on the market.”

There haven’t been any offers yet, but Howard said the owners felt like it was the right time to put the land on the market.

“Knowing that the greenway is coming, [the owners] cleared several houses off of their property,” he said, adding that they also removed scrubby brush.

The greenway will cross Smith Street at the intersection with Spring Street, almost touching the corner of the 2.7 acres on the market. The stretch from the corner past the Greenway at Fisher Park apartments is already finished, passing across the street from two buildings that partners Vernon Powell and George Carr plan to develop.

A standalone building, which was recently the home of Boston’s House of Jazz until the venue moved to a larger downtown space, will likely be rented in less than two weeks, Powell said.

“I’m speaking with three potential tenants now,” he said, declining to comment on what type of businesses are interested.

In the future, Powell said he and his partner would like to develop the property, turning the building’s site into an office building and changing the building next door — currently a Christian church — into parking for the office workers. Powell and Carr also helped develop Deep Roots Market, which opened around the corner this March. Change is coming to the northern edge of downtown, some aspects more quickly than others, and developers offered varying ideas of what they’d like to see happen. Powell wishes Duke Energy would put power lines underground to upgrade the aesthetic from the 1960s to 2013. He is supportive of the greenway, saying he certainly welcomes it, but others like Jones and Chaney were more enthusiastic.

Jones said he’s excited about a variety of things that could be coming downtown, naming the proposed performing arts center and a possible multi-university campus, adding that he thinks development around the apartment complexes will unfold organically. Still, his top priority: “Complete [the] urban greenway as soon as possible.”