Heritage House plan to move forward

by Jeff Sykes | @jeffreysykes

Updated July 16, 2015: City Council is hearing the presentation from planning staff. Here is the document presented to council.

There is an $18 million question hanging over the dilapidated Heritage House, one that will likely be decided during the course of two public meetings in coming weeks. The Greensboro City Council will hear a presentation on the next steps for Heritage House at a work session on July 16, while the Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro will hold a public hearing on the site plan Aug. 5.

It’s been just about a year since a comprehensive team of City of Greensboro public safety, inspections and community development staff swept through the 177-unit condominium complex at 310 West Meadowview Road, just near the intersection of Business 40 and Randleman Road. The former hotel became an affordable housing nightmare for its residents and often frustrated city inspectors because of its complicated ownership structure.

Conditions at the Heritage House became intolerable for residents by mid-2014 and Greensboro’s police, fire and EMS workers found it increasingly dangerous to enter the high-rise on calls for service.

The city ordered Heritage House condemned and vacated at the end of July 2014, and both public and private resources came together to help residents find new homes. But the question remained, what to do with the property?

The city’s planning board gave a nod to the idea of redevelopment last September. The board voted to declare the six-acre property blighted, a condition necessary for city staff to begin formulating a redevelopment plan. Early budget forecasts concluded that it would cost about $20 million to stabilize the Heritage House and return it to viable use. Demolishing the structure would cost less than $2 million.

From the beginning it’s looked doubtful that the building could be returned to viable use. A visual inspection by engineers with SKA Consulting found significant structural concerns, both in the living spaces and with the supports and beams that keep the building standing.

“The severity of the distress was documented only at the select locations observed, but is believed to be representative throughout the facility at similar locations, with varying degrees of deterioration,” wrote SKA’s Aaron Bopp regarding corrosion of welding joints and critical support beams.

“Without proper remedial work, the corrosion will continue to progress to the point that the integrity of the structure could be compromised, at least at isolated locations.”

Bopp concluded that half of the visible concrete connections had failed or were not properly installed. He deemed that “a consistent, serious problem throughout the facility.”

Planning staff said in October that they held “grave concerns” about returning Heritage House to viable use. At a public meeting in April to provide updates about the future of the property, staffers showed off three potential concepts developed by an Illinois-based consulting firm. Teska Associates received about $10,000 for helping city staff develop concepts in February and March to improve the property.

Each of the concepts involved the demolition of the high-rise condominium structure but left intact the Meridian Events Center attached to the building.

Two of the concepts would add a total of 24,000 square feet of industrial space at the back of the property along Village Green Drive. One option would include a 15,000 square foot senior services facility at the southeast corner of the parcel next to the existing Maple Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center. An expanded outdoor component of the Meridian Events Center, complete with a year-round tent, courtyard and permanent buffer, would replace the demolished high-rise in the center of the property. The second option includes similar industrial space along Village Green Drive, but adds a 28,000 sqf indoor soccer facility in place of the Heritage House. Plans show two complete indoor soccer fields in addition to an entry plaza next to the drop-off area.

The third option consists of the expanded outdoor space for the events center and 32,000 sqf of industrial space to the north and east of the existing Heritage House.

A market analysis completed by Teska on March 27 concluded that housing was not a major need for that area.

“There is an over-supply of housing in the area,” Teska’s Scott Goldstein wrote. “The key housing issues are to fix up and prevent foreclosures in the area. Adding additional housing would likely not find a strong market. There are many other areas of Greensboro that are close-in and provide more residential amenities and a neighborhood context.”

Goldstein visited Greensboro to interview property owners and brokers in the area and to conduct a strategy session with city staff. He also concluded that the Maple Grove senior center was not at capacity “and does not need an expansion wing to provide what they already offer. Lastly, the recommendation for the indoor soccer space could augment the city parks and church fields currently used by recreational soccer leagues.

Vacancy rates for industrial facilities in the area are low, Goldstein concluded, and about 10 percent of all jobs in the city are located within a one-mile radius. A separate data snapshot of the area found that industrial vacancy rates are reaching their lowest point since the onset of the Great Recession.

Goldstein identified gaps in the retail market surrounding the site, but lowincome rates and almost 19 percent unemployment seemed to preclude the need for more shopping in the Randleman Road corridor.

High traffic counts and proximity to I-40/85, when coupled with the strong rent levels in the area, make it an attractive spot for expanded industrial use.

“There is strong demand for mid-size industrial space for light manufacturing or servicing,” Goldstein wrote. “A business park located on site will have access to the interstate via Randleman Road and compliment the businesses on the north side of Village Green creating a business park with modern industrial space.”

City staffers plan to present the three concepts to city council at a work session on July 16 in order to receive guidance.

Once a formal redevelopment plan is selected, public hearings will take place before the redevelopment commission, the planning board, and city council. Once the plan is adopted by city council, the redevelopment commission may file eminent domain actions against the 177 properties in the Heritage House. !