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Mar 22, 2012

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Billy Jones

Ignoring Our Greensboro Communities Is Deliberate

As if there was ever any doubt that the people in charge of building a downtown Greensboro performing arts center ever cared about anything other that Greensboro's more affluent neighborhoods we have the following admissions from their meeting minutes.

From the minutes of the Greensboro Performing Arts Center, Community Engagement Committee, March 14, 2012:

"We were reminded that our charge was to create an economic report and feasibility study of a downtown performing arts center."


It's as if the rest of Greensboro never existed.

And from their February 23, 2012 minutes:

"How do we present ourselves as neutral?"


Easy, you consider the fact that other communities other than downtown might be good places to build Greensboro's performing arts center? Then you come out and say it.

This is going to be so much fun!

Billy Jones

And by the way, does anyone actually know the address of the Regency Room of the Elm Street Center? It's as if the DPAC crowd doesn't really want us to show up so they leave the address out of their meeting minutes.

Brian

Addresses of the forum locations are on the GPAC website under "Forums".

Sue

I love a conspiracy when there is one, but I asked Mr. Google's map-child to find "Regency Room, Elm Street Center" and lo! and behold, it showed up. It also asked me if I needed directions. Maybe you should give it a try. (Or you could call or email ANY of the contact info on the website.) You're talking about meeting MINUTES that Ed posted and not a meeting announcement.

I went to an additional source (http://www.digtriad.com/news/article/221090/57/Public-Forums-Announced-For-Performing-Arts-Center) linked from the GPAC website's home page and found everything I needed to know if I wanted to go. That link was posted prominently on the GPAC website.

Then I looked at the actual meeting minutes (http://gpac2012.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/citizen_engagement_minutes_march_21.pdf) and saw what I'd expect in minutes. A summary statement of the meeting. With parking directions.

Sorry, there may be something to look at here, but a conspiracy? Not so much.

Billy Jones

I found it after I commented.

It's pretty common of downtowners everywhere to assume themselves and their monuments to themselves so important that everyone should know where they are located by name alone but if that were true then downtown addresses wouldn't have actual street addresses, would they?

When I was trucking I would be given similar addresses in cities in which I had never before been and when I called to tell them I was making a delivery from hundreds or thousands of miles away and needed directions the response was always, "What? You don't know where the Regency Room is?" Then they couldn't give directions either.

And seriously, what's wrong with including an actual street address in a press release? And why should I or anyone else be expected to go searching the web for additional resources when it could have just as easily been part of the press release?

Conspiracy? No, but indicative of the arrogance and/or level of incompetence of the people pushing for a DPAC.

But then what more could I expect from Sue, Brian and others who don't even know my neighborhood exists, but snark and arrogance.

Ed Cone

Put the blame for not posting addresses on me -- not out of snark, arrogance, or downtownerism, just being a lazy native who figures anyone who cares to find these places can find them.

Honestly, I thought about adding "Episcopal Church" after Holy Trinity, but I figured "Elm Street Center" was kind of self-locating. My apologies.

Brian

There is no snark or arrogance in my posting Billy.

sittinginthemiddle

Clarice get the popcorn, the basement dwellers are eating each other again.

Billy Jones

Brian, you have my apology for lumping you in the same basket as Sue-- you didn't deserve my comments.

Ed, Elm Street Center according to Google.

Oops! ;-)

ron

This is odd. Mr Cain seems to be moving forward with his proposal for a downtown performing arts center despite the fact there is another more public effort to do so. According to his website, the project will be built in phases and would include a 4,000 seat performing arts center, 300 room Hilton hotel, 100,000 square foot convention center, entertainment Pavilion, 50,000 feet of retail, 251 unit residential mixed use, restaurants. It looks like he just recently updated his website and Mr Cain says he will have renderings ready in May of this year. I know people didn't take this project seriously when it was proposed several years ago but if there is a realistic chance the performing arts center can get funded entirely with private funds I say lets go for it. The other mixed-use components would be a plus.

http://www.greensborotriumphcenter.info/Project_Specifications.html

"The Joint Venture is called Triumph Center Development Inc. the Investor has set up an account at their brokerage firm for the JV with an initial $15,000,000 in position for the project. Triumph Center Development Inc. has opened an account at Morgan Stanley Smith and Barney, to facilitate the transaction for liquidity. This upfront capital will be used to finance all the pre-development expenses. We are also forming the development team that will communicate the project to the city and the appropriate officials. We have narrowed our search for the appropriate sites that meets the projects requirements. We plan to have site plans and drawings completed by May 2012 in time for the Las Vegas Show"

Ed Cone

It would be lovely to see a private developer step up to the plate, but so far this Triumph project looks like vapor to me.

Billy Jones

Vapor or a tax grab?

And Ron, once more, are you compensated in any way, shape or form by downtown developers, the Trader Joe's developers or any other firm that invests and/or profits from development schemes? Remember: your credibility is currently below zero and will only get worse until we read some honest answers.

Billy Jones

Okay, so I did a little snooping around and it appears that according to the NC Secretary of State Mr Cain's company, Exempt Inc., has been suspended from doing business as of June 10, 2005.

Ron?

Ginia Zenke

Why 4000 seats? I did some research and here's what I found:
Durham Performing Arts Center: 2700 seats Management: Nederlander Built for the BIG shows; Phantom, Lion King, and the latest, Wicked actually makes money
Charlotte Bluementhal Theatre: 2100 seats Management: Tom Gabbord, well credited, 3 venues, impresssive shows, busy schedule, etc - P/L dunno
Raleigh/Progress Energy "Memorial": 2263 seats Management: City of Raleigh, no credits, still has good shows, 3 venues so busy schedule - P/L dunno
Again, why 4000 seats - just because Salt Lake City has them and we need to emulate some other city that has no bearing on this one? It's like Chatanooga, "Let's build a river front through Greensboro" all over again. Better yet, stick the word "International" in front of it like our airport... I digress. Isn't it better to build a smaller venue in a good location (downtown) that you can fill for a few nights, than a large cavern (anywhere, but especially "out Lee St") that you can't fill in one? More nights, more money spent here by production companies from stars to roadies. Note: Nothing pulls a populace together faster FOR something than to be AGAINST the obviously stupid, in this case building it anywhere near the coliseum. It would be cool downtown, just make sure whoever manages it can bring in the good shows....Don't want to build it just for Death of a Salesman and of Mice and Men.

Billy Jones

Ed's vapor comment got me wondering so I've done some checking up and asking around about Issac Cain's claims. So far I've heard nothing bad but I've also heard nothing good except Ron's claim that the Triumph Center is to be privately funded. "...performing arts center can get funded entirely with private funds I say lets go for it.") Besides the fact that the State of NC apparently suspended operations of Mr Cain's company in 2005, I've also e-mailed the president of Booking Entertainment to see if Mr Cain's claims are true. I'm awaiting their response.

And frankly, if you think long and hard, why would a fully self-contained project such as Cain is proposing (attached Hilton Hotel, 3D IMAX theaters, skating rink, bowling, indoor rock climbing, video arcades and more including on-site parking) want or need to be located downtown when existing downtown businesses would be competing with the very venue he is trying to build for the very same consumer dollars?

I can think of only one reason to locate such a venue downtown-- public money to fund its construction.

Ron? Ron? Ron?

Is anyone else hearing the song, 76 Trombones playing in your heads? Or is it just me?

Brian

Ginia - Some very good points. No one has questioned the 3800 seat size put forth by Matt Brown, but we should be. A smaller, well-designed venue that regularly sells out is better than a larger venue with a curtain drawn to make it look smaller that never sells out. This should not be just a performance space, a number of seats, it frankly needs to be the most outstanding and beautiful building in downtown. Greensboro needs a statement building and this very well may be the best opportunity. As far as management? I'd rather us contract with one of the groups operating the facilities you researched than Matt Brown at the Coliseum. Let him focus on the Coliseum and special events center and let the arts community focus on the programming for the PAC.

michele

Billy, I received an invitation to the forums via email from Action Greensboro. I went back and re-read the email after reading your comment. It didn't have addresses for the forum locations. I didn't even notice that when I read it, probably because I know where the Regency Room and Holy Trinity are. Chances are, the person who typed up that email does, too, so I'd guess that it was probably just an oversight, not from arrogance or incompetence, but just an "oops", maybe from multi-tasking? Honestly, it sounds like something I'd do. ;)

Billy Jones

Maybe Michele, maybe not. But the fact remains that to date no one from GPAC2012, the Greensboro City Council, Citizens For Economic Justice, Rhino Times or the downtown developer crowd has even bothered to address my concerns even though I've repeatedly made them aware. (E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc...) It seems to me they are scared of the possibility that my plan to bring the GPAC to Northeast Greensboro might actually gain some traction should more of the public hear of it.

See you at 11:30?

Ginia Zenke

Brian, Ditto. We are being held hostage. In addition, if we can't get around the person Henry Frye was describing who is scared that this whole venture is so "the rich may look down upon the poor from their boxes" we might as well stay in bed. I see little difference in a sports sky box and a theatre box, except the dress code. Besides, I heard someone say "the rich aren't as interested in looking down on the poor as they are being seen - and they aren't that interested in being seen at War Memorial."
A big part of that is meeting friends at the ballet or concert and going out for dinner or dessert afterwards, and social activity on a voluntary basis is a positive indicator for a healthy community. Rounding up opera patrons for wine and dinner and loading them up on a bus for a quasi forced-march across town was useful then, but can't we move past that? Go voluntarily? Like the rest of the world?
The whole point of this is that if we don't offer a choice in the arts and culture, and put it in an area that conducive to artistic and restaurant synergy, who's the poorer then? We all are, including that person Frye was describing, because our choices for exposure to it are reduced or non-existent. No choice IS a state of poverty. By contrast, we do have to be concerned about how we appear to the world, especially the cooperate world. The good companies will pass us by for relocation or expansion because of education and quality of life issues every time. Now, if we could just do this in a way that doesn't destroy our assets and magnify our liabilities as we habitually do...

Billy, I hear "We've got Trouble, Right here in River City, Trouble with a Capital T that rhymes with P that stands for ....Performing Arts Center....!

michele

Billy, I see no reason to go to a GPAC forum because I can't imagine that I will ever go to the GPAC. There are lots of excited folks who look forward to the GPAC and I'm sure they'll go to the forums. :)

Billy Jones

Michele, Yes, there were lots of excited folks there but many left there with a lot less excitement. See the TW14 and Fox8 evening news.... And soon on WUNC Radio.

The veil has been lifted, there will be no downtown performing arts center in my lifetime.

Billy Jones

Want to know real censorship in action? I went to the Greensboro Performing Arts Center forum today-- speakers from the floor were NOT allowed. Even Bill Knight, who was seated at my table was not allowed to speak to the audience. Mayor Knight was told that all the public forums would be run the same way. (Unless they told him something else after they pulled him aside.) Instead they had round table discussions in small groups and even some of the task force members were unhappy with the way things were arranged and controlled. The media folks walked around the room from table to table listening in. TW14 sought me out and did an interview. Fox8 sought me out and did an interview. John Hammer, WFMY and the N&R avoided me altogether.

At the end they did read some of my comments to the entire group but speaker after speaker that followed tried to drive home a downtown location as being the only option.

The task force will make what I told them public but it won't be because they ever planned to, but because failing to do so will expose the GPAC2012 management for what it is.

The little green circle or not at all!

Ron? Anybody seen Ron? Ron, is that you hiding behind the veil?

See you there again tonight at 6:00.

Ginia Zenke

I peeked in on the 6pm version, about 5 tables full with development gods hovering around. I recognized the forum format immediately. I went to one of those ages ago, where they split you up into little groups, you get to elect a leader, you are given topics that lead you AWAY from the most burning questions and invite you to give your valuable input, when they've already decided where its going, when its going, who's going to build it and who's going to pay for it. I seem to remember a similar format in Fisher Park regarding the new ballpark.... Of course, I'm sure the former has no bearing on the latter at all.....
Would it be possible to protest the format? Don't show up unless you bring a bag of tomatoes kind of meeting?

Billy, I agree with your charge that enough isn't done to spread venue assets around town, and that entire neighborhoods are neglected, but let me put it this way: Even if they put the PAC smack in the middle of Irving Park, or, for example, on the site of the nearby Golden Gate Shopping Center, or on that cavernous 3-5 acre site across from Krispy Kreme on Battleground, right next to all those rich people it would STILL be in the WRONG place and it STILL wouldn't work.

My reasoning is this: 1) Restaurants; "feed them and they will come, linger, come back again. It extends the evening and keeps dollars flowing downtown.
2) proximity to colleges; a decent chunk of people going to see the performing arts are...aspiring performing artists, and their professors, some of whom play the oboe or the harp in the symphony, or sing alto in a chorus, or teach drama, writing, music, dance or set design or theatre tech. All the colleges here have some sort of program that is involved in this. What it amounts to is a formula that works in other cities and we are just now getting to the point where we have the same ingredients in that formula and might be able to make it work.

Remember too, that when the colosseum was built, that the cheerleaders on that project were probably promising that great business and financial development would surely follow, when nothing of the sort happened. Lee Street has always been a light industrial area that existed independent of Colosseum activities, with the exception of maybe Stamey's and a handful of others, but it hasn't changed and it is far from the shining sub-division on the hill. And even though it is closer to UNC-G it is still not a place that students or other patrons willingly go to. We are finally at a point where people are naturally attracted to downtown and it needs to be utilized to its fullest. Another positive is the proximity to other theaters which give the whole movement a sort of critical mass. Whether its in SW GSO or NE GSO its still a long trek and a tough sell. In some communities you can spread the assets around and it works. I'll be surprised if they can get it to work in downtown; I've seen way too many bad decisions de rail downtown time after time. I'd be even more surprised if the public actually put its foot down and didn't bite for the 4000 seat venue - or its price tag and demanded something reasonable and within the realm of possibility and success.
I hope I haven't offended and hope your neighborhood gets the attention and positive direction that it needs and wants, sooner rather than later. 30 Mill could go a long way...

Billy Jones

Gina, I was also there at 6:00, sorry you didn't stay. In some ways it was worse than you described: our leaders were all appointed-- not elected.

As for your premise that my ideas won't work, take the Natural Science Center for example: When you and I were growing up in Greensboro, the Natural Science Center and Greensboro Country Park were way out in the country on a narrow winding 2 lane road. Now look at that same area. The Coliseum BS was a non starter for the very reasons you cite-- there were no places to build new businesses next to the coliseum. And downtown has that same problem-- this isn't about bringing new businesses to Greensboro, it's about increasing profits for businesses who are already here.

Long term thinking would be to build the PAC in a downtroden area and develop the properties around it. And guess what, not only can Greensboro save $10 Million Dollars right off the top by placing it in the abandoned shopping center the City already owns, the land and homes around the shopping center are for the most part, empty and or City owned. The City could build a reasonably sized PAC (3800 seats is absurdly large) and place the rest of the money in a revolving loan program to establish and encourage businesses and investment around the new PAC.

As for colleges: there's no reason they can't be involved no matter where it's placed. I used to tow illegally parked cars at UNCG, students there drive from class to class, none will walk from campus to downtown. It's only a few more minutes to the site I'm talking about. And when you take into account the time required to park a car and walk from the garage to the PAC it's faster for A&T students than going downtown. Maybe for UNCG as well.

But sadly, like the bozos who forget to build a parking lot for the new jail that has caused you and your family so much pain, Mayor Perkins and the downtowers aren't capable of thinking long term.

Here's a little note that has yet to go public: The consultant hired to look into a downtown PAC is going to recommend the city build multiple buildings instead of a single complex. Folks downtown are going to love it when Davie, Washington and or other streets are closed to build those overhead walkways and park those cranes, trucks and trailers needed to build the PAC. Whole blocks will be closed for months or years.

And finally: Greensboro's communities are sick and tired of propping up downtown and the vast majority of Greensboro voters will not support another taxpayer funded downtown bailout until a few thousand more of us old geezers finally die off.

PS. I used to deliver flowers to you and your mother. Your customers must love your work.

Billy Jones

PPS. Has Ron died?

Ginia Zenke

Billy,
Thanks for the PS. We hope they do.
You have very valid points, and I can't argue with them, except for the restaurant issue. Being off the East Wendover axis is a help, for this is still a car-driven country no matter how high the gas gets.
Along the idea of magnifying our assets and minimizing our liabilities, my brother, Chris, always thought they ought to shave off the stage area of the Carolina, from the proscenium back to the sidewalk (there's 20 or 30' back there) and rebuild the production part to new standards. The front is elegant enough; its the guts that need reworking. They need to buy up the surrounding land and can put extensive wings on either side as well. But it will "only" hold 1100 or so now with comfy seats. Still, its a jewel we could polish up for a lot less money than this mega project is calling for. But after you've seen them spend 85M on the judicial-industrial complex, the decent citizens do wonder, why can't we spend that kind of money on the arts? But sometimes, the mega project isn't the answer.

Also, we remember it this way: after the heavy retail days downtown in the 60's and 70's, downtown was abandoned until the late 80s. We had filled office buildings but no "life" downtown. It took a handful of crazy people to see the low taxes, the unique buildings, "nobody is looking" and see opportunity, and they dug in. Only later did a few feel like they were being left out and had to restick their finger in the pie and "organize" downtown - with the whole official "stamp of approval" drill.

I hope you get something out your way that will stabilize the area and draw dollars to it. Think "Buckhead"!

Ginia Zenke

Did I say shave off? Well sort of. I know an excellent structural mover who could move that entire back brick section. Mike Blake is his name....

Billy Jones

Yeah, the whole finger in the pie thing is the problem.

Yesterday, while at the Elm Street Center, I kept thinking about when I was a kid and saw the parking garage for the first time. Daddy's car had broken down so the next door neighbor took us to go pick up Daddy at work. He was a valet parking attendant for Thalhimers. We never shopped there because we couldn't afford their prices but the store and parking deck looked amazing to me as it was so big and shiny. Today it just looks dull and creepy.

Last night, it came to me why retail left downtown starting in the '60s. They couldn't afford to stay downtown. Having spent 28 years trucking I know a little bit about it. Today's over the road tractor-trailers won't fit in the loading docks at places like Thalhimers, the old Pep Boys or the downtown Western Auto. When I started driving, the legal length limit for truck and trailer combined was 55'. Today the trailers are 53' without the truck. The trucks outgrew areas like downtown Greensboro and rather than tear down our downtown buildings and build buildings that are big enough to accommodate today's trucks the developers took the cheap way out. And transferring product to smaller trucks more than doubles the transportation costs.

I watched my first movie at the Carolina-- I would love to see improvements there.

Ed Cone

Big trucks would have a hard time downtown, but they probably didn't start getting so big until there was a market for them to serve, and that market was the suburban shopping center and, somewhat later, the mall.

Car culture and changing retail options killed downtown department stores, and not just in GSO but all across the country.

When people blame local conditions for our downtown's decline (not what you are doing here, Billy, but it happens a lot) I wonder if they've been to any other downtowns in the US.

Billy Jones

Ed, I agree, it did happen in lots of downtowns-- many suffered the same fate as Greensboro. But some cities built new downtowns that were capable of handling the infrastructure necessary to continue to grow. "Think "Buckhead"!" One of Atlanta's 3 downtowns. Who says Greensboro can only have 1 downtown?

Again, all the more reason to build the PAC in East and Northeast Greensboro where thousands of empty acres already exist. Here's 2000 acres under contract one plot with frontage on Wendover Avenue and water and sewer in the street, listed with none other than Mayor Perkins. But no, not this City Council, they'd rather expand the City's footprint to both county lines (HOT and Roy Carroll's 100 acre park) and skip over our existing neighborhoods altogether.

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