Blood for parking?
The vacant lot at 324 S. Elm St. in downtown Greensboro is a patch of scarred yellow grass bordered on two sides by parking lots, with a first-down’s worth of sidewalk frontage and a two-story brick wall along the long northern border. It is a cavity in the welcoming smile of center city, a patch of negative space besmirching downtown’s positive Greensboro attitude. And it just may be the hottest property in town. Greensboro City Council stayed in session well past midnight last Wednesday debating the fate of this property, which sits in what is arguably downtown’s hottest corner, Hamburger Square, anchoring the district’s bars, shops, galleries, clubs and other business concerns, not to mention the residents. And on a night that saw rigorous debate on council’s legislative agenda, which included restoration of the protest petition; discussion of citizen review boards for police and civil service; and an appearance by real estate lawyer Henry Isaacson, whose zoning-case batting average still stands in the mid .900s after his argument for storage units on Fleming Road was tabled — it was this little slip of land that interested us the most. LindBrook Development Services has planned a five-story, mixeduse building with a restaurant with outdoor seating, office space and “corporate apartments,” for which the company has requested up to $100,000 in incentives. But residents and business owners near the corner say that the proposed building will eliminate 15 parking spots — four absorbed by the structure itself and the other 11 to be leased by LindBrook — which will drive away customers who have grown accustomed to that lot. “That parking lot is the lifeblood of downtown Greensboro,” Simon Ritchy said to council. Ritchy, of course, was one of the pioneers of nightlife at the corner of South Elm and McGee streets. But this brings up a paradox of downtown development in Greensboro: Everybody seems to want a thriving urban center, but they think it can be done without the crowds, crime and transportation challenges that are part and parcel of any central business district worth its salt. If you’re doing things right, it should be difficult to find a good parking spot downtown, and in time people’s expectations should jibe with reality: When you go downtown, you park your car wherever you can — or, even better, ride your bike or take the bus — and walk where you need to go. Ritchy notwithstanding, we are more in agreement with at-Large Councilman Robbie Perkins, who said, “Frankly I don’t think the parking lot is going to be there forever.” In fact, we often wonder why three-quarters of the storied Hamburger Square, downtown’s most notorious corner with some of its most desirable real estate, is wasted on a parking lot. But if you believe, as we do, that Hamburger Square is a desirable corner, then you must also cast as absurd the notion that we would pay someone incentives to build there.
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‘That parking lot is the lifeblood of downtown Greensboro.’ Simon Ritchy