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cityboi

The future of Greensboro's skyline

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Time and time again I hear people say Greensboro's skyline sucks and that it has a small skyline for a city its size. I guess it could be worse. Most say Greensboro has a better skyline than Durham. But lets look at Greensboro's skyline. Why has Greensboro's skyline not grown in 18 years while Charlotte, Raleigh and even Winston-Salem have seen downtown high-rise construction within the past 18 years? The biggest excuse over the past 10 years was office vacancy. It was said that downtown Greensboro had such a high vacancy rate, it would make no sense to build another office tower. Today the downtown vacancy rate is at its lowest since the three office towers were built in 1989-90. Today the excuse is the economy. The good news is that we are seeing more high-rise proposals being discussed. Several hotels have been proposed and finally there is talking of a potential high-rise office building. But we've heard this song before remember the Greensboro Triumph Center? No one even knows where that stands today.

Lets look on the residential side of things. We now have a high-rise condo (Center-Pointe) but its really a renovation project and there is no added addition to Greensboro's skyline, just a visual improvement. Why have the downtown residential projects in Greensboro been low-rise developements? Why do developers want to sprawl out most of its project like the proposed "Murrow Station"? Filling downtown up with lowrise residential projects will hurt downtown in the long run. Dont get me wrong. These "village style" projects improve street level activity in an urban environment. Southside is a testament of that. But we dont need to fill downtown up with these kind of developements. Downtown advocates say that in order for downtown to have big retail and a grocery store, the center-city has to have the mass population for it. There is only so much available land to develope downtown so why waste valuable land for low-rise projects when you can have a higher population with a mid-rise or high-rise development. An example is Governors Court. It is a 4-story development that could have been 8-stories with the same square footage. Instead of spreading the development out along Friendly Ave, it could had a smaller footprint and it could have been built as an 8-story project. By doing that, it would help conserve land for another high density residential project next to it.

Now there are several things that will improve Greensboro's skyline.

1) SMART PLANNING -As I said before developers shouldnt automatically plop a low-rise development without thinking about increasing the downtown mass in the future. To conserve space developers need to start building vertically.

2) CREATIVE DESIGN - These high-rise structures need to have creative and bold designs and not just be generic designs. lately building designs have becoming boring, bland, cookie cutter designs.

3) HEIGHT VARIATION - One of the things I have noticed about Greensboro's skyline is that the tallest buildings are about the same height so it looks like Greensboro has a flat skyline. I even had an out of town visitor that asked me if downtown Greensboro had a height ordinance because it looked like the tallest buildings were around 20 stories. Height variation is key in having a great skyline. All you have to do is look at Charlotte. Greensboro needs to have a few towers that are 25 stories and maybe one thats between 30 and 35-stories as a signature tower. Then there should be some smaller towers between 8 and 15 stories that serve as fill in towers between the big towers.

4) A GROWING SKYLINE IN ALL FOUR DIRECTIONS - Another thing I have noticed is that Greensboro has a "linear skyline". It only grows on a north-south axis along the Elm Street block. The focus of high-rise constructions should not be focused just along Elm Street. Downtown Greensboro is much bigger than Elm Street. Greensboro's skyline needs to start growing from east to west. We should see high-rise construction along Church, Eugene and Edgeworth Streets. This is one of the reasons Winston-Salem has a better skyline than Greensboro. Winston's skyline grows in all directions and it helps gives Winston-Salem a bigger city feel.

rightfully or not, people judge a city's vibrancy based on its skyline. A growing skyline is symbolic for city prosperity. It projects a more urban image and it makes the city look cool. Hopefully our city planners and developers will realize that verticle construction is the way to go. Its the only way downtown Greensboro is going to have 10,000 plus residents. Downtown has to have at least that many people to attract big urban retail. I look forward to the day when I can shop at an urban Target or urban Home Depot. Boy that would save on gas because everything would be downtown :)

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I think Greensboro's lack of skyline growth is due, in part, to its lack of a significant corporate presence in the downtown area. Now that Jefferson Pilot has been acquired by Lincoln Financial there seems to be very little in the way of a strong corporate presence in downtown Greensboro that can deliver in bringing at least a 10 or 20 story skyscraper there. Wrangler's still there and of course plenty of government offices but there's doesn't seem to be much more beyond that. I think that as long as downtown Greensboro struggles in maintaining a strong corporate presence, the downtown area will be seen as more of an interesting urban neighborhood of Greensboro than as the city's commercial center.

To be quite honest when I go through Greensboro I get the feeling that the downtown office market has already been superseded by the office cluster around the airport with Friendly Center being close behind as well. Granted, the city still could get some midrise and high rise activity from the residential sector which will bring a little height to the area. Hopefully new downtown development along these lines will serve to bring the focus back on to the downtown area but I can't say for sure if that will happen.

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Greensboro's local economy is more reliant on things like transportation and manufacturing that require very little in the way of office space. Winston-Salem's and Charlotte's include those aspects, but they also have sectors that require more office space (i.e., banking). I think this, in large part, explains why Greensboro hasn't seen any office highrises get built in a while now.

I think Columbia would make for an interesting comparison here. The main drivers of the economy there are state government, USC, and Fort Jackson--which aren't things that really lend themselves to a lot of office space. After about 10 years or so of no highrise office construction, in 2004 a 17-story tower was built. A new 9-story building that serves as the headquarters complex of First Citizens Bank (SC) was completed in 2006. And just a few weeks ago, ground was broken on another 17-story office building. You know what the common theme is for all of these developments? An out-of-town developer was involved. Holder Properties of Atlanta discovered Columbia, liked the stability of its local economy, and decided it was a great place to invest in. No corporate relocations were involved in any of those developments. I think it's going to take the same thing for Greensboro. A developer from a larger city that has the resources to get things done can have a significant impact on the downtown office market and skyline of a smaller city. As ambitious as some local developers are, oftentimes they simply don't have the means to get tallers buildings built, at least not by themselves.

As far as the skyline branching out and becoming more well-rounded, that will simply have to come with time. The three most recent towers for Columbia are all located along the Main Street corridor. Even when you look at Charlotte, most of its towers are located along the Tryon and College street corridors; it's only been rather recently that the skyline has started branching out. I believe Raleigh's three tallest towers are all located along Fayetteville Street (I know the RBC tower is, the tallest). I think once the energy of downtown starts extending beyond Elm in a significant way, you'll see more development along other downtown corridors.

In terms of highrise residential development, it simply appears that that follows successful lowrise residential development, and that can take a while to develop. Charlotte got its first highrise residential development in Uptown only two years ago.

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Lowrise condos are a safe investment, because they appeal to a broader range of people in the South and don't cost as much as building a highrise. It makes sense to build them first in a downtown of a city that has experienced the negative effects of white-flight as they are cheaper and give the development community a jumping-off point to gain a perspective on what the city wants. Most people like to have their own personal space and are hesitant on moving into a high-rise building with groups of other residents. There is a mentality that if you move into a highrise, then you sacrifice space. This isn't always the case and lowrise condos help ease the transition. Lowrise condos give these people a chance to live downtown, but also maintain a personal sense of space.

In the late '90s and early '00s, when downtown living was just starting to become popular, Charlotte's first residential buildings of this time period were at 5 stories max. Winston's firsts were West End Village, Tar Branch Towers, and renovations of old mills and tobacco warehouses. Highrise living isn't as economical as it is in the North. We have far too many surface lots in our downtowns to build upon and land is generally cheap. The mentality also isn't here among most residents. It's going to take a few more years of high gas prices before people seriously consider moving back downtown and living in dense neighborhoods.

I read somewhere that the largest (or second largest) employer in downtown Greensboro are the city and county governments. Usually, it takes a private developer to build a high rise residential or office tower. Coupled with the fact that downtown Greensboro lacks a significant corporate presence, it makes sense that Greensboro's skyline isn't as tall or wide as one would expect. Most employers in Guilford County are based off of 68, Bryan Boulevard, or Battleground/Wendover. There is a significant amount of vacant office space along these roads that it makes it pointless for a developer to build an office tower in downtown. Triad Tower would have added a boatload of office space onto an already mediocre market. The Triad should be grateful everyday that that hideous proposal never got built. It would have gone against everything the people at DGI and other pro-downtown agencies are trying to achieve. Like Krazeeboi said, it is going to take an outside developer with vision to give Greensboro its next highrise.

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^Good point about Triad Tower that I failed to mention. There's no way one could have championed Triad Tower while also complaining about the lack of downtown office towers. I'm also glad that bad idea never saw the light of day. Something else on the drawing board that will also hurt the downtown of Greensboro (as well as Winston) is the HOT proposal. How can one expect a stronger downtown office market when more and more competition is being created for it?

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just to add to what everyone is saying, i think if downtown Greensboro was more visible from a highway, then there would probably be taller proposals and maybe a taller skyline today. Its kind of odd seeing 3 very tall "downtown" buildings scattered along I-40 and I-85. Im pretty sure if the center city sat at I-40 and High Point Road, the skyline would be great.

also, low-rise developments are not that bad. as long as they stay on the outer edges of the core, then i wouldnt view them as a big problem. what you guys want, and everyone, is a beautiful vibrant downtown. having a great skyline is just a bonus. DC and Savannah taught me that lesson very well.

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just to add to what everyone is saying, i think if downtown Greensboro was more visible from a highway, then there would probably be taller proposals and maybe a taller skyline today.

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just to add to what everyone is saying, i think if downtown Greensboro was more visible from a highway, then there would probably be taller proposals and maybe a taller skyline today. Its kind of odd seeing 3 very tall "downtown" buildings scattered along I-40 and I-85. Im pretty sure if the center city sat at I-40 and High Point Road, the skyline would be great.

also, low-rise developments are not that bad. as long as they stay on the outer edges of the core, then i wouldnt view them as a big problem. what you guys want, and everyone, is a beautiful vibrant downtown. having a great skyline is just a bonus. DC and Savannah taught me that lesson very well.

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just to add to what everyone is saying, i think if downtown Greensboro was more visible from a highway, then there would probably be taller proposals and maybe a taller skyline today.

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Look at what Roy Carroll is doing to the old Wachovia Building. It would have been cheaper for him to build a totally new low-rise development with just as many units but he chose not to do that. So it can be done and it doesnt have to take an outside developer with a vision.

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But like you stated, this isn't a brand new structure; it's the renovation of an existing one. That makes a difference.

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I'm not really inclined to think so. The major interstates running through Columbia do not run near downtown (excluding the I-126 spur), yet the skyline can only be viewed from a distance from a short stretch of the southern leg of I-77. Other than that, you can't see the skyline from I-20, I-26, or most of I-77 at all. The same goes for Greenville, SC; you can't see the skyline from I-85, yet there have been a few highrise proposals in the past few years. Although due to various reasons they haven't yet materialized, the desire to build them was there.

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this is why one of Columbia's tallest is along I-77 and a reason why Greenville's skyline isnt reflective of its prosperity and population.

why do you think Grandover, DoubleTree, and Sheraton are not in downtown, but along the interstates? there is legitimate reason for these highrises not being on Elm or Market Street. highrises want to be seen by the masses...its obvious. I-40 and I-85 have more far veiwers than the streets of downtown Greensboro.

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High-rises are great, don't get me wrong, but they're not where Greensboro's at or is headed. For whatever reason, it's not a market that cottons to tall buildings, as there are few built examples, and even fewer on the drawing boards. Not to mention that land costs are still low enough in desirable sections of town that the infrastructure required for multi-story buildings isn't worth the additional cost to develop.

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this is why one of Columbia's tallest is along I-77 and a reason why Greenville's skyline isnt reflective of its prosperity and population.

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There will be no new buildings in downtown Greensboro for years. Lending has stopped! No banks are lending money for any development unless there is significant money down. The greensboro real estate market is frozen, both residential and commercial. Greensboro has a low income demographic which does not present itself well to large scale commercial development. This is a great place if you prefer a inexpensive, slow pace of life. Nothing wrong with that, just be realistic about the facts and realities of living here.

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Lending has not completly stopped. The amount of lending has decreased. We shall see what happens. All I know is at least one high-rise hotel proposal and one office tower proposal is under consideration. Even in a bad economy, high-rise construction continues in other cities. I see no reason why it cant happen in Greensboro. Now will a tower be under construction this year? of course not. But in the next two or three years expect to see some projects break ground, especially after the democrats take back the White House and get the U.S. economy back on track.

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This is why I've said that it will probably take an outside investor with significant resources and a proven track record of delivering to bulk up Greensboro's skyline. They will have a better chance of success in the current economic climate.

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I honestly don't think Greensboro will ever see a 'flood' of highrise projects for it's downtown. So many office projects have spread out across the city to be very 'auto-friendly.' The type of office development Greensboro sees is more backoffice type operations instead of corporate or even regional headquarters. Until the city breaks that trend, the prevailing trend in downtown Greensboro will be low and mid-rise mainly.

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We're talking about one tower out of several downtown that was built in the early 70's--the upswing of the growth of the suburbs. We also can't forget about land costs, which are generally cheaper in the suburbs.

The reasons for Greenville's relatively small skyline somewhat correlate with Greensboro's. Greenville's economic strength lies in engineering, high-tech manufacturing, etc.--sectors that require more industrial space than office space. Even if the office buildings that were built elsewhere than downtown were actually built downtown, the skyline still wouldn't be reflective of the metro area population.

I'm not saying that visibility isn't a factor in where office highrises get built, but I think it's far from being the major factor.

Grandover is a resort hotel; those don't belong downtown. I can definitely see Sheraton having been located along I-85 since it's part of the convention center complex, which benefits from having high visibility and easy highway access. But I still think the visibility factor is being overstated here. If it's that important, why aren't all of Greensboro's (or those of any other city for that matter) located along the interstate?

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And actually its not being overstated at all. my first sentence stated that highway proximity is a FACTOR in additon to what everyone had mentioned before me.

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And in Greensboro's case, you have a very valid point.

As a matter of fact, look at any city in NC and the city's which have higher towers are all visible from the interstate. Cities lacking in height.. Fayetteville, Greensboro, High Point, Gastonia, and Wilmington; all have downtowns which are barely visible from major interstate roadways. Winston-Salem's, Charlotte's, Raleigh's, Asheville's, and Durham's all have the benefit of major roadways making their downtowns visible to many people. Office towers look to make a statement about a company, and making a statement where only locals will see it doesn't make much sense in a companies mind. Even the developer of a residential tower would think that way, towers are kind of an 'ego-trip' in a way. If you know what I'm trying to say...

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This is why I've said that it will probably take an outside investor with significant resources and a proven track record of delivering to bulk up Greensboro's skyline. They will have a better chance of success in the current economic climate.

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Some of these companies many want signifigant office operations in the city of their manufacturing operations. HondaJet is building its world headquarters near its factory. Now I know the corporate headquarters is being built by the airport and not downtown but not every company that moves operations here will build offices by the airport. I think FedEx will indirectly help decrease office vacancy in Greensboro thus increasing demand for more office space. Its going to take some time but eventually we will start seeing a number of big office projects happening.

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Not to get off topic but speaking of FedEx, the company is now asking for incentives for a ground shipping center in Greensboro. Its very obvious FedEx is going to have a major presense in Greensboro and that presence will have a positive effect on industry, shipping/warehouse and commerce in Greensboro. Overtime FedEx will "indirectly" push office development in the city.

http://www.myfoxwghp.com/myfox/pages/Home/...mp;pageId=1.1.1

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