Downtown hustle

by YES! Weekly staff

Downtown Greensboro has come a long way since YES! Weekly opened for business five years ago. In that time, we’ve seen the construction of a new ballpark, the creation of Center City Park and rehabilitation of one of the skyline’s most notable features on CenterPointe. We’ve seen dozens of businesses set up shop — true, not all of them took hold, but the success stories of Fincastle’s, the Mellow Mushroom, Stumble Stilskin’s, Southside and several other examples cannot be denied.

As the revitalization spreads south, the question becomes how best to utilize the viable land of South Elm Street, just across Lee Street.

Industry once flourished here — a bakery, a mill and other industrial concerns — and in the last 10 years, almost as many visions for the district have been floated — a ballpark, a supermarket, a man-made body of water.

As recently as October 2006, a city redevelopment plan emphasized a shift towards housing and commercial development — including a full-scale rehabilitation of the Daily Flour Mill into condos or a recreation center.

In its most recent incarnation, the plan for South Elm Street includes proposals for a new headquarters for Guilford County Schools and a luxury hotel.

A GCS building makes sense to us — on paper, at least. The more cynical among us argue that the process is apt to be fraught with political considerations and plain old ineptitude, and they might point out that GCS already has a building on the outskirts of downtown. But the influx of full-time workers will still do the area’s businesses some good.

We, however, have to question the wisdom of building a $47 million luxury hotel in the wilds of South Elm.

It would be one thing if downtown Greensboro attracted tourists like New Orleans’ Bourbon Street or Beale Street in Memphis, in which case a luxury hotel would seem reasonable. And while it’s true that destination locations like the ballpark and the civil rights museum scheduled to open early next year will increase out-of-town visitors, existing downtown hotels should be able to absorb the surge.

The project seems to us like a pretty transparent grab for federal funds loosed in the wake of the international economic crisis. It’s driven by Bridget Chisholm, a Wake Forest grad and former county commissioner in Memphis who has experience using public-private financing for large-scale projects.

If that’s the name of the game, fine by us. But we say scarf up the federal money and use it for something South Elm Street really needs. Downtown residents and businesses alike could benefit from a grocery store placed just off the corner of Lee Street. A healthcare facility for residents of southeast Greensboro would likewise meet a specific and stated need.

But a luxury hotel seems to us a waste of time, effort, money and space — even more so than a man-made body of water — in downtown Greensboro.

YES! Weekly chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration