The name game

by YES! Staff

The stretch of High Point Road and Lee Street that traverses the southern edge of the city runs past fields and warehouses, the UNCG campus and the Greensboro Coliseum before dog-legging through Jamestown, where its known as Main Street, on the way to its namesake city — it becomes Greensboro Road just as it hits High Point.

It’s one of the oldest and most traveled roads in the city — in 2007 Greensboro Coliseum Director Matt Brown called the thoroughfare leading into his entertainment and sports empire, which stands on the threshold of High Point Road and Lee Street, “Greensboro’s most important mile.”

Brown has had his way with the street for years, spearheading the effort to purchase the Canada Dry building and incorporate it into his archipelago and the move to tear down the Coliseum Inn across the street, as well as influencing business decisions all along the corridor.

The coliseum drives business; that much is undeniable.

The latest proposal by Greensboro City Council — to rename High Point Road — has Matt Brown’s fingerprints all over it, and  his allies in city government pounced on the idea last week at the meeting.

It’s true that High Point Road is in need of an image rehabilitation — the strip is known for pawn shops and adult-oriented businesses, though it also counts a slew of car dealerships and a fine slate of ethnic eateries among its small businesses. But if you look at the street through the same lens

as Brown, the Greensboro Coliseum and its attendant structures are all that there is — he seems to believe that the coliseum has a small city built around it, rather than see Greensboro as a complex metropolis that happens to have an arena.

The coliseum drives business; that much is undeniable. And perhaps it isn’t such a bad idea to pay some heed to “Greensboro’s most important mile.” But it’s difficult to see how changing the name of the street will have any effect at all, save for the writing on street signs and business cards.

And if the city stays true to form, it will be at least a generation before anyone will call the street anything other than “High Point Road.” Remember, a solid contingent of Greensboroans still proudly refer to Grimsley as “Greensboro Senior High,” though the name was changed in 1962.

The point is that real change doesn’t happen on street signs; real change happens on the ground.

If we want to rehabilitate High Point Road, we need to alter the character of the street itself, not what we call it. Economic development funds — that is, funds that do not go directly to the coliseum — could spur new development. Better sidewalks and a bike lane would make the street more friendly to pedestrians. Public facilities like a library or a park would bring a new crowd to the area. And if the coliseum is indeed the economic driver that it is always touted to be — which we believe it is — then independent businesses should see the value of setting up shop in the area. This means strip clubs and bars, yes, but also high-dollar steakhouses and hotels, family restaurants and attractions… the kinds of things people do before and after attending events at the city’s facility.

Sure, we have some of that stuff now, among the auto-parts stores and big-box retailers, though not as many as we can handle. But the reasons for the dearth of meaningful development, we believe, has nothing to do with the name of the street.

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