Downtown Greenway picking up momentum after slow start

by Sammy Hanf

Greensboro’s Downtown Greenway was originally proposed as part of the center city master plan in 2001 but as of today only three-quarters of a mile of the 4-mile loop is completed.

Dabney Sanders, project manager for the Downtown Greenway, said that the idea when it was first introduced was to serve as a hub for other trails and bring communities in Greensboro together.

“We also felt like it was a real opportunity to do something that would set Greensboro apart from other cities and it was an opportunity to connect the community and neighborhoods. We decided to do that in the form of public art,” Sanders said.

Sanders said the Downtown Greenway was designed to spur economic growth in its immediate vicinity, citing developments like Deep Roots Market and the Greenway at Fisher Park apartment complex as examples of investments made in anticipation of the greenway.

Sanders said the plan had potential and that Greensboro’s situation seemed promising for a project that could be logistically difficult elsewhere.

“It seemed like at the time there were some circumstances that meant that we could probably do it,” Sanders said. “There are a lot of communities that wouldn’t be able to do this because the land acquisition and the right of way acquisition would just be prohibitive if you were trying to do this to a city that had had a lot of development.”

The project moved forward as a public private-partnership. Sanders said just shy of $10.5 million was raised by private donors. The other $14.4 million was raised through public funds from the federal and local level. The combined total is expected to cover the cost of three-fourths of the Downtown Greenway.

Despite the goodwill surrounding the project some citizens are concerned by the lack of progress to date. Grady Peace recently started Advocates for the Downtown Greenway to bring attention to the project in hopes of speeding up construction.

“Deadlines would come and deadlines would go and just nothing was ever built and so I had basically given up any kind of hope that it was actually ever gonna be (finished),” Peace said. “About two months ago, I just came to terms and woke up one day and decided I should try to do something to get some public attention on it in an effort to actually at least say I tried to get something done to help expedite the greenway.”

Peace said he is working to engage community organizations and has been working with downtown neighborhood associations and Bicycling in Greensboro to put what he calls positive pressure toward completing the project.

An avid biker, Peace said he wants to see the greenway built for his family.

“I now have an 11 and a 9-year-old girl and my hope at some point was that they would actually be able to use the greenway,” Peace said.

Sanders said that delays have resulted from a boom in development, leaving contractors unable to put the necessary manpower toward the project and affording businesses the luxury of being more selective about the contracts they accepted. There have also been snags in planning out some segments, where extra work was required to prep the site for the greenway.

“It’s really not just building a greenway path but it’s also doing all those other things that actually make the street fully functional for other means of travel, whether it be vehicle or pedestrian or bicycle,” Sanders said.

Sanders said they also had problems getting an appropriate bid for the northern section of the greenway, but that after plans were re-drawn the city received a bid that was more in line with their expectations.

Craig McKinney, transportation planner at the Greensboro Department of Transportation, said that a bid for the northern section coming in at $2,389,404 was received on May 5.

“We are still working on the formalities of accepting that bid but it’s looking like we’re going to be able to do that and pending City Council approval of that contract we should go under construction in probably mid-July or early August,” Sanders said.

McKinney said that bids for Phase One, running along Bragg Street from Eugene Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard are planned for June. Bids for Phase Two, which runs along Murrow Boulevard, are expected for November.

McKinney said he is confident they will meet the November date for Phase Two because it’s a large project that will likely attract the attention of bigger construction firms.

McKinney said that funding has been secured for all but the western section of the Downtown Greenway.

GDOT Director Adam Fischer said that funding for the western section will likely come from a bond referendum City Council hopes to place before voters this fall.

The western section runs along a railroad that is not currently in use but has not been formally abandoned. Fischer said they are currently working to assess the value of that railroad corridor so they can make an offer to the owner.

Peace, the community activist, said that he is cautiously optimistic about the Downtown Greenway moving forward quickly from here.

When it is completed, the western section of the greenway is slated to run from the Freeman Mill overpass at Spring Garden Street north to Smith Street near Battleground Avenue and hook up to the Atlantic and Yadkin Greenway.

The A&Y Greenway has attracted the eye of Greensboro developer Marty Kotis, who said he sees the greenway as a way to make the midtown area more attractive to pedestrian traffic.

Kotis said the big weakness he sees with the A&Y Greenway is the lack of integration with commercial projects. For the greenway to be as successful and vibrant as those in other major metropolitan areas, Kotis said it needs to have activities to draw people to it.

“We see restaurants, shops, features where people can play,” Kotis said. “That might be a fountain feature that they can run through, it might be outdoor life size chess sets, it might be an outdoor amphitheater area, it might be just a picnic area.”

Kotis said he is willing to dig in and help the city get the ball rolling on the A&Y Greenway, while also adding private features to give more options for users.

“We have discussed the idea a publicprivate partnership where we work with the city to fast track the development, in an effort to take something that might otherwise take 15 or 20 years and try to build it in 2 or 3, at less cost” Kotis said. !