|By Richard M. Barron,J. Brian
Ewing,Amanda Lehmert, News & Record, Greensboro,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 1, 2009--GREENSBORO -- Plans to redevelop the South Elm Street district downtown are gaining momentum now that private and public groups are working to build a major downtown hotel and a central office for the school system.
Officials have confirmed that a Memphis consultant is interested in building a $75 million hotel with 300 rooms in the redevelopment district south of Lee Street.
Mayor Yvonne Johnson said Bridget Chisholm created Urban Hotel Group two weeks ago, according to state business records, to develop the hotel project.
Chisholm works in finance and is a former county commissioner in Shelby County, Tenn. Chisholm was working to find financing for an identical hotel, called the Phoenix, in Memphis this year, according to stories in The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal newspaper. Chisholm did not return phone calls Tuesday.
"A major office building or a major hotel in that area ... would be a catalyst for other development and the redevelopment of that area," said Roy Carroll, a developer who serves on the board of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, which is an advocate for the redevelopment district.
Johnson said the hotel added to a potential Guilford County Schools office would attract retail, business and housing.
"The end result of the whole project will be somewhere in the neighborhood of more than a billion dollars in economic impact," Johnson said.
Although the city's redevelopment commission and the Greensboro City Council would need to approve any redevelopment plan, officials agree that a hotel could be an big step forward.
Carroll, who said his companies would not be involved in the projects, said Chisholm outlined the broad concept of the hotel in a conference call with local officials. But details are sketchy because the project is in its beginning stages.
The combination of projects would be a strong attraction for workers and visitors.
"The projects are strong enough to stand on their own on each side of the street," Carroll said.
Local officials intend to lobby for federal stimulus funding for a new schools office.
Walker Sanders, president of the Community Foundation, confirmed Tuesday that his group is organizing a trip to Washington to meet with every local delegate's office about the foundation's redevelopment proposals. Sanders said the trip is not a sure thing, but the group would leave Tuesday if it does go.
Carroll has offered his private plane for the trip in his role as a board member. The group would be made up of Melvin "Skip" Alston, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners; Andy Scott, assistant city manager; Sanders; Johnson; and Carroll.
The Community Foundation has said a new central office would be a strong anchor for redeveloping the area and likely would attract more private investors.
"It offers a great opportunity for the schools (administration) to be in a new facility and in the same place," Sanders said. "Also, it would give the community a more convenient location."
School system administrative offices are spread across the county, including three buildings in downtown Greensboro.
"If it's possible to get some federal stimulus, we want to explore what those opportunities are," Sanders said.
He believes the central office project and other unnamed projects could qualify for bond funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Gate City Co., a nonprofit subsidiary of the Community Foundation, proposed the central office plan in October. The $60 million plan called for the coordination of several governing boards, nonprofit groups and private developers. The plan calls for the school system to consolidate several of its 10 administrative offices into a new, 250,000-square-foot building on a 4.5 acre lot. The building would accommodate 500 employees.
Depending on what federal support, if any, the plan receives, Sanders said the building could be built larger and house other, similar entities.
The school board has not officially weighed in on the issue.
"We don't even have the facts and figures to even go there," school board member Deena Hayes said.
Hayes said if the plan would not cost the school system and could be a benefit, then it is something the board should discuss. Discussion also should include the potential economic development impact to downtown as well, Hayes said.
Five years ago, the city launched an $11 million redevelopment project on 10 acres south of Lee Street. The plan called for residential, commercial and office space.
Last year, the city finished buying the properties, demolished buildings and began environmental cleanup.
The redevelopment commission likely will start requesting proposals for projects on the property in October.
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