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  Large Development Projects in Downtown     Greensboro and Downtown Winston Salem, N.C.

Downtowns focus on different 'next steps'

While both Greensboro and Winston Salem have made drastic changes to their downtowns through redevelopment efforts, during the past decade, there’s no doubt that the two often competitive cities have taken different paths. Several Blocks of South Elm Street in the gate city pump out everything from rock to disco music and have the street clogged with people nearly every night.

In the Twin City meanwhile, nodes of restaurant development along Fourth Street or Trade Street mix with new or revamped office towers like One West Fourth Street and Winston Tower. So it should come as no surprise that, as leaders in both cities look towards the next challenges that face their respective downtown redevelopments, different issues are taking centre stage. Jason Thiel, president of the downtown Winston-Salem partnership said his group is still working on that signature “destination” entertainment project which could be filled by Civic Plaza a potential Downtown Ballpark or smaller options like a comedy hall or movie theater. Connections between the individual blocks of development will also be crucial.

Downtown Greensboro Inc President Ray Gibbs, meanwhile, is trying to figure out where to grow next as real estate becomes harder to find. He’d also like to make the Downtown office market more competitive with the suburbs and bring in more 9-to-5 workers. And of course with so much entertainment development parking remains an issue. But some challenges do cross city lines, such as finding financing options to help developers with increasingly expensive projects while also creating more affordable housing options.

Both Communities eye TIF Projects

In Greensboro, for example, a project that has been discussed since an Action Greensboro Trip to Greenville, S.C, a year ago is a new Downtown Hotel. Windsor/Aughtry Co has been looking into the idea, but Gibbs said the financing hasn’t worked yet. The sticking point is a needed parking lot, he said. Such an idea could be paid for with tax increment financing approved by voters in the fall of 2004 but as yet unused in the Triad.

“That’s the typical problem.” Gibbs said. Our biggest issue is just the economics and financing of making large projects work. The interest is there and I think the city and county would be receptive to partnering to make those large developments work.” Winston Salem is also looking at using a TIF bound to pay for part of its Civic Plaza Project, an office, retail, housing and open space concept along Fourth Street that Thiel believes could help, create the face of Downtown. The Downtown Winston Salem partnership selected Durham-based Niemann Capital as the developer of Civic Plaza a year ago, but so far no final plans have been set out for the project because of the concern over financing.

“Civic Plaza is going to happen.” Thiel said. “It’s just a matter of when.” And it’s not just the downtown leaders who are looking for support – developers are asking for it too. Greensboro and Guilford County need to adopt flexible economic policies so we can continue to have and encourage development” said Daniel Craft, Vice president of Craft/The Insurance Center, former chairman of DGI and a Downtown Investor himself. Craft pointed to the city and County’s recent approval of incentives for Roy Carroll’s Center Point makeover of the Wachovia tower in Greensboro as a positive step. “These deals are going to be more complex financing.” He said.

But when it comes to finding space for new projects Thiel has a decided advantage over Gibbs. Downtown Winston Salem covers a larger area than Downtown Greensboro, so there are more places that still could use a makeover. Gibbs on the other hand said he has lost potential development deals because he couldn’t find an available piece of property. “There’s some space out there, but not a lot to choose from” Gibbs said. Still Gibbs said he is working with three restaurants that are close to finding locations downtown and with three others that are showing interest.

Thiel also said three restaurants, two of which will be in the Annex of the Nissen Apartment building are on the way.

W-S EXPANDING BOUNDARIES

With First Horizon Ballpark in place, the next logical place for development in Downtown Greensboro appears to be in the Bellemeade area, though the city is developing a plan for extending development further south along Elm Street past the railroad tracks.

In Winston-Salem, downtown is moving North and west. Residential projects – including the Goler Development, the Tobacco Square building on Oak Street and the Brown Rogers Dixson building at the corner of Main and Seventh streets – will open up the Northeast part of Downtown.And the retail/office/condo West End Village development will push Downtown west of Broad Street and a potential Ballpark would do the same.

“By expanding Downtown, north from Trade Street across Martin Luther King we’ll have more real estate coming into the market,” Thiel said.

In addition the growth of Piedmont Triad Research Park will expand development on the east side, and the south end of downtown is already bristling with several residential developments from Beau Dancy.But much of the residential development in both downtowns has been of the upscale condominium variety, with prices often above $200,000 per unit.

Gibbs said he’s encouraged by upcoming rental units being built in downtown Greensboro, including the 220-Unit city view Apartments near The Depot, as well as new units in the Southeastern Building and the possibility of apartments at the former Pet Dairy site just east of downtown.

In Winston-Salem, leasing at the Nissen building has been brisk, with more than 70 percent of the units occupied, Thiel said.





 
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