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Allen Johnson: Prayers are answered with 14-acre planned development on East Market Street

Allen Johnson: Prayers are answered with 14-acre planned development on East Market Street

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Those 14 empty acres that have lain fallow on East Market Street for what seems like forever may finally become more than an urban prairie on downtown’s doorstep.

The property’s very cordial but also very deliberate church owner, the United House of Prayer for All People, plans an ambitious mixed-use project called Downtown East.

It would include 200 apartments, town homes, row houses and a grocery store as its retail anchor.

As the News & Record’s Richard Barron reports, the Washington, D.C.-based church participated in a study in 2007 that proposed a similar vision for the land, where the old main post office once stood.

Then nothing happened.

People like me wondered why the church let all of that prime real estate just sit there for weeks and months and years.

Yet, the wait probably was a blessing.

The Great Recession soon followed that economic study 10 years ago and may have jeopardized the success of the project, had it moved quickly from concept to construction.

The economy is much healthier now, and the pace of growth in downtown Greensboro may be as brisk as it has ever been.

Also, the stars seem to be aligned.

N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold Martin has expressed his desire to see more quality development on East Market Street. He has said he wants the university and the community around it to grow and prosper together. Martin also wonders why the East Market area surrounding A&T lacks the kind of growth that seems to happen near most colleges and universities. This new project could help accomplish precisely that.

It also happens to be near the site of A&T’s planned new $90 million College of Engineering Building.

Further, old attitudes about development to the east of Greensboro are fading fast.

The Norfolk Southern railroad tracks have long been viewed as an unofficial border between black and white Greensboro, but developers like Andy Zimmerman and Marty Kotis have expressed serious interest in the east.

Finally, the House of Prayer is a very credible entity. When it commits to doing something, it tends to do it seriously. And well.

Which is to say, the national church has both strong leadership and a lot of money.

And a track record for successful developments in other cities.

The lesson in this for me comes from Lamentations 3:25:

“The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.”

Contact Editorial Page Editor Allen Johnson at allen.johnson@greensboro.com or (336) 373-7010.

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