Zack Matheny has only been president of Downtown Greensboro Inc. for a little more that a year, but he appears to have taken to the job like a duck to water.
Matheny gave his second annual report to the community on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Cone Denim Entertainment Center on South Elm. He started listing accomplishments and downtown improvements with the new Union Square Building on Gate City Boulevard and ended up at the VF Building on North Elm, with a few trips down side streets along the way.
Matheny said that one of his goals was to “Make our organization relevant,” and it certainly appears he has done that. Another goal is to bring more people downtown, which is why DGI has taken over the management of Fun Fourth, the Festival of Lights, the Holiday Parade and gotten involved again with First Fridays downtown.
Matheny said it wasn’t in his job description to run festivals and parades, but with the goal of getting people downtown it made sense.
He talked about economic development big and small, noting that DGI helped the Greensboro Distillery get an ordinance passed so that Greensboro could have its first distillery since Prohibition, which was more than a couple of years ago.
Matheny said, “There are good things happening in Greensboro and awesome things happening in Downtown Greensboro.”
He noted that the city has been a good partner in projects, that Guilford County put DGI back in its budget and currently DGI is going after state and federal funding for projects.
Matheny said that he thought that in 1998 it was listed as a DGI goal to move to a storefront location by 2001, and soon DGI will actually be moving from the sixth floor of the Self-Help building at 122 N. Elm St. to the corner of South Elm and Lewis streets to be more accessible.
He noted that DGI had helped the Bearded Goat, a new bar on Lewis Street, work its way through the paperwork to get open.
He said that DGI has not done a good enough job of marketing the downtown and showed a new commercial for the downtown, now running on local television, with the tag line, “Isn’t it time you find yourself in downtown Greensboro.”
He noted two new restaurants that had been added in the same block were 1618 Downtown and the Jerusalem Market, which should be opening within days.
Matheny also talked about big projects like the renovation of the Lincoln Financial buildings, which many old timers still call the Jefferson-Pilot buildings. He said his estimate of the renovation costs was $40 million but that might be low, and the result would be more Lincoln Financial employees working downtown. He said Lincoln Financial had indicated they would add more emplooyees if they could find the parking.
Matheny didn’t talk much about parking, but he is reportedly working on several opportunities to add a significant amount of parking downtown.
He talked about the recently completely $15 million renovation of the Southeastern Building on the corner of Market and Elm and said the sidewalk on East Market Street beside the building would be widened soon to allow for sidewalk dining.
Matheny noted that Carroll at Bellemeade would bring the first new hotel in 30 years downtown and that this $60 million investment would include 291 apartments and would expand the downtown off Elm Street to Eugene. He said that it has taken a couple of years for the NewBridge Bank ballpark to bring the kind of development everyone expected to the area because the economy had gotten in the way, but now it’s coming to fruition.
Everybody raves about LeBauer Park, and Matheny said, “to say that LeBauer Park is one of the greatest gifts the city has ever received probably doesn’t do it justice.”
The Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts is the next big downtown project to get underway and Matheny said it was moving along.
Matheny mentioned a small office building on John Wesley Way that was recently completely renovated and given a more up-to-date facade as the kind of project that downtown Greensboro needs.
Matheny said that the mayor of Greenville, South Carolina, which has had great success in bringing its downtown back, said they had a 20-year plan and that such a plan needed to be strategic and purposeful. Coming up with such a plan is on the agenda for Greensboro’s future.
Matheny also talked about wall murals and the hanging baskets, which seemed to be one of the prime projects of DGI in the past.
What Matheny didn’t talk about was his involvement in economic development downtown. He said on Tuesday that he had more than a couple of projects he was talking to people about but it was too early to make any announcement. He said there was one he was hoping he could announce as part of the annual report, but it just wasn’t quite ready yet.
Listening to Matheny’s report and how many projects he has had a hand in during the past year, it’s hard to believe that he took the job in July, 2015.