On Thursday, Aug. 15, Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny came to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to make a presentation about downtown Greensboro and seek financial support for a new Downtown Greensboro Strategic Plan, but he ran into a buzz saw named Commissioner Skip Alston.
After Matheny made his presentation and asked the board for $50,000, an irate Alston wasted no time telling Matheny exactly what he thought.
Alston said it was unconscionable that Matheny could come before the board and talk about all the valuable assets of downtown Greensboro and fail to so much as mention the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Alston is one of the founders of the museum and a permanent member of the board of directors, and the major award the museum gives every year is named for Alston and his co-founder, Earl Jones, a former Greensboro city councilmember and NC state representative.
“I’m very disappointed,” Alston said harshly as Matheny stood before the board. “You give a 30-minute presentation and you mention not one time the International Civil Rights Museum.”
Alston said that, when the museum was built years ago, downtown was a “ghost town,” and added that for Matheny to give it zero credit was very concerning.
The angry commissioner added that the museum was “a magnet” for downtown activity with very important plans coming up next year for the 60th anniversary of the national sit-in movement that began at the museum.
Alston also said NC Gov. Roy Cooper and many others were helping plan the festivities for 2020 that would bring a tremendous number of people to downtown Greensboro.
“You said nothing about that,” Alston said. “We’re looking at bringing in some big names.
Alston said Matheny paid no notice to the “worldwide publicity” the museum is going to bring next year and he added that the museum-induced traffic benefits many businesses.
“When they come here, they eat food,” Alston said. “We don’t sell food at the civil rights museum. We don’t sell gas. Yet you are the president of Downtown Greensboro and you said not one thing about the museum. That disappoints me.”
Alston added that the coming performing arts center, and other projects Matheny seems to put all his stock in, isn’t going to bring in 85,000 people a year like the museum does.
Matheny was clearly taken aback and he defended his presentation.
“I didn’t include a lot of things,” he said. “There’s 99 blocks and there’s a lot of things I could mention that I didn’t.”
Matheny also said that he and Downtown Greensboro support the museum with donations and buying tickets to the museum’s annual gala.
Alston said that was “a thousand dollars here and there,” but didn’t amount to much.
Though Matheny clearly wanted to leave with the $50,000 that afternoon, the board voted instead to hold a public hearing on the request in September and make a decision on Matheny’s request after that.