Three proposals under evaluation for redevelopment at South Elm and Lee streets intersection

by Christian Bryant

A sign that enthusiastically portrays the plans for development juxtaposed against the barren lot at South Elm and Lee streets. (photo by Alexandria Stewart)

The Greensboro Redevelopment Commission announced that technical reviews will be conducted to evaluate three developers — HJ Russell & Co., South Elm Development Group LLC and South Elm Street Redevelopment Partners LLC — as the next stage of the South Elm Street redevelopment project.

“This is a due-diligence project,” said Dyan Arkin, community planner/development coordinator at the Greensboro Planning & Community Development Department. Arkin, along with the redevelopment commission, currently oversee the auditing of the developers.

The empty 12-acre lot sits idly like an untouched canvas. Lee Street borders it to the north, Arlington Street to the east, Bragg Street to the south and the Norfolk Southern rail line to the west. South Elm Street divides the entire redevelopment area in two. Mounds of dirt and rocks line the sidewalks surrounding the property like sand dunes. Besides a few broken beer bottles and uneven grass, the area looks promising.

According to the redevelopment website, the highly coveted 12-acre plot of land will be transformed “into a standard-setting gateway to downtown Greensboro — a visually attractive, safe and vibrant destination for a broad range of users.” When completed, the area will be an extension of the popular South Elm Street corridor and a new space containing “housing, retail, office, cultural/institutional uses, parking and open space.” The plan was created by the city of Greensboro in 2006.

Arkin said that the multi-step technical review process will include evaluating the organizational skills of the developers, “making sure their financials are accurate,” “the Department of Transportation looking at the site plans,” “looking at what’s not in [the site plans] in terms of sustainability” and “making sure the pieces and the parts make sense,” among other things.

“[We’re] looking to see if proposals meet the vision statement,” said Cassandra Rogers, a redevelopment commissioner. “The components of the proposals must match the vision statement.”

The proposals from the developers include a cover letter answering the proposal request, information on the development team, the proposed project and overview, financing and project design.

The vision statement, which serves as a guideline for the evaluation of the proposals, states that a “main-street-style commercial district integrates with the adjacent traditional neighborhoods, including Ole Asheboro, Arlington Park, Warnersville and Southside, as well as downtown and the Lee Street corridor.”

To conform with the vision statement, the new district should be “architecturally diverse, sustainable and environmentally conscious” while benefiting “a diverse cross section of Piedmont residents.”

A request for proposals was released by the redevelopment commission last December. Since then, the field of developers has been narrowed from five to three.

After the redevelopment commission examines the short list of developers and deem them capable of handling the project, interviews will be conducted to see who will move forward. The commission plans on bringing the matter to the Greensboro City Council on Nov. 15, although the date is subject to change, Arkin said.

The redevelopment process is moving along, but it has not been without delays. Arkin said the current timetable “is a little bit behind the original.”

The redevelopment project has received funding from several different sources including the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city of Greensboro. Arkin said that the mixed funding coupled with the current economic environment account for the main problems and delays.

“In a perfect world, by spring of next year, we’ll see some dirt moving,” Arkin said.

Since 2006, not everyone has been satisfied with how the redevelopment process has gone forward.

“The city said, ‘You’re leaving. You’re not staying,’” said Chris Dwiggins, owner of Automotive Connection.

Dwiggins owned a building near the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks on the current redevelopment site. Dwiggins said the city asked him to move to make way for the new project in 2007. He currently operates his business in a building on Arlington Street, which runs parallel to South Elm and across from the redevelopment site.

“I wasn’t happy about it,” Dwiggins said.

“Still ain’t…. We didn’t go so far to do eminent domain, but that was next.”

The Federal Highway Administration published the final rule for the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act in 2005. The final rule was a revision on how the government implemented property acquisition and the displacement of persons for federal or federally assisted programs or projects. Dwiggins and his business were one of nearly 15 other establishments that were displaced for the South Elm Street redevelopment project.

Dwiggins displayed mixed feelings about the way the city handled his case but still looks forward to the redeveloped area bringing in more business for his shop.

“I think [the redevelopment plan] is a good idea,” Dwiggins said. “I want to stay in the area.”

An item of contention regarding the redevelopment site is the amount of input from the surrounding neighborhoods that will be taken into account.

Although displaying no dissatisfaction with the redevelopment commission and its handling of the project, Nettie Coad, a member of the Ole Asheboro Neighborhood Association raised concerns regarding the completed development — how much citizens of the surrounding communities will benefit and the length of time it will take.

“Our downtown should embody services that people need here,” Coad said.

Coad mentioned a grocery store being a service that will satisfy those needs. She also said how the South Elm Street redevelopment project should only be a component of larger redevelopment efforts in Greensboro. She claimed that the city has a narrow focus when it comes to similar projects.

“It’s not just about South Elm Street,” Coad said. “It’s about the southeast…. The city never really works to do things in south Greensboro until pushed to do it.”

Coad concluded that she would like to see the city move forward in a more timely fashion.

“It’s critical that people who are being significantly impacted by the physical changes to the site have their voices heard,” Arkin said. “We really are responding to what the public has requested.”

A community advisory board was put in place for the purpose of keeping the surrounding neighborhoods involved with redevelopment process. Arkin continued by noting that the underlining intention of the redevelopment project is to construct an area that will benefit the entire city.

“[This is] meant to be an amenity for every resident of Greensboro,” Arkin said. “This is an extension of your downtown and my downtown.”

Arkin added that the amount of input and concern over the project is promising.

“People are getting excited again,” she said.

“It’s good to see people reengaged.”