News: CJ Exclusives

Auditorium Retrofit Nixed in Greensboro

The $50 million bond was the only one to fail on the Nov. 4 ballot

Greensboro voters might have turned down a $50 million bond to retrofit the city-owned War Memorial Auditorium, but there’s still plenty of public money waiting to be spent on the immediate area surrounding the deteriorating auditorium.

Fifty-seven percent of voters rejected the bond, which was the only Greensboro municipal bond on the Nov. 4 ballot to fail. Voters approved a $134 million street improvement bond, a $20 million parks and recreation bond, and a $1 million housing bond.

Although the other bonds passed, Greensboro City Council members acknowledged that a $50 million bond was a lot to ask of voters in tough financial times.

“I was never optimistic that the bond would pass in this economy,” said council member Robbie Perkins. “So we’ll do the best we can with the facility, and if it continues to deteriorate, then we’ll be faced with the difficult decision of having to shut it down.”

Backers of the bond say the auditorium, which opened in 1959, is rapidly deteriorating beyond repair. They said the sound system is ruined, the plumbing backs up, and the air-conditioner needs to be replaced.

According to a Web site supporting the bond, the retrofit was “critical to maintaining a key component of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex,” which is described as the “leading economic generator” for the Triad, bringing in more than $100 million in economic impact.

But a fact that city leaders grudgingly recognize is the coliseum complex is a perennial money-loser, as the city has contributed $2 million from its General Fund to help with operating expenses the last two fiscal years.

“Everybody can argue that all day,” said council member Zack Matheny. “I’ve looked at it as an overall economic generator for the community.”

Matheny found it “shocking” that the auditorium bond was the only bond that failed, considering the fact that voters turned around and approved considerable debt for the area surrounding the supposedly crumbling entertainment venue. The transportation bond includes $7.5 million for a “streetscape project” along the section of Lee Street and High Point Road on which the coliseum complex sits.

The $20 million parks and recreation bond includes $12 million for a regional aquatic center that would be used for competitive swimming and diving meets. The bond’s approval is surprising because it drew criticism from residents and local media for being hastily put together. The aquatic center, which had been turned down twice by voters, was tacked onto the bond at the last minute after City Council member Mike Barber pressed for it.

The city hasn’t figured how the swim center’s upkeep will be financed, nor do they have a location. However, the city has purchased, at a cost of $3.2 million, the site of a former Canada Dry bottling plant that sits next to the coliseum complex, and both Perkins and Matheny said the property would be an ideal site for the swim center.

Such plans are all part of the city’s aggressive approach to revitalizing the Lee Street-High Point Road corridor, which has gained a reputation as an area rife with crime and prostitution. Along with the Canada Dry property, city officials also want to buy the Coliseum Inn, a rundown motel that sits across from the coliseum complex.

The city released a draft of even more ambitious plans last month that called for “reinvestment and use in the High Point Road/West Lee Street corridor” that calls for a “series of three key villages” that would drive economic development. One would be a university/mixed-use village in conjunction with the city’s five universities. Another would be a sports, recreation, and fitness village “related primarily” to the coliseum complex and UNCG. A third would be a hospitality village related to Koury Convention Center and Four Seasons Mall, and an office park and significant concentration of hotels closer to Interstate 40.

Perkins makes no apologies for the city’s role in revitalizing the High Point Road/Lee Street corridor.

“The City Council’s got to provide leadership,” Perkins said. “The city has to step it up on High Point Road or they can kiss it goodbye. It takes a little bit of guts in this environment, but it also shows that you’re looking toward the future.”

Sam Hieb is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.