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LoFi Park in Greensboro a new magnet for downtown

LoFi Park in Greensboro a new magnet for downtown

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GREENSBORO — Adam Granger strolled down North Eugene Street after a run, eating fresh vegetables from a Deep Roots Market carton and listening to his earbuds.

Traffic at twilight was sparse as he walked the wide sidewalk through tiny LoFi Park in front of Joymongers Brewing Co., near his apartment at Greenway at Fisher Park, at the intersection of North Eugene and Smith streets.

“I have friends who are in Greenville, South Carolina, Atlanta, New York,” Granger, 23, said. And those are great cities, he said, but it’s nice to see little urban parks such as LoFi popping up in Greensboro, along the new greenway that eventually will encircle downtown, allowing him to run 4 miles on a wide, restricted sidewalk like this one.

Granger, who moved to town earlier this year, is the target market for downtown developers who would like to see residential and business growth. Downtown Greensboro, he said, is becoming a great place for young professionals.

“What’s cool is feeling this develop in its up-and-coming stages,” Granger said, “and also the (close) community. It’s got this nice blend.”

LoFi Park — for Lower Fisher Park neighborhood — opened this past week, and it represents a milestone for the businesses and residents of this area, who have endured months of orange-barrel-blocked roads and loud construction equipment slowing their businesses and confusing potential customers.

Now, with new traffic signals and more pedestrian-friendly crossing areas, the streets are a better showcase for Deep Roots Market, Crafted: The Art of Street Food, Preyer Brewing Co. and Joymongers Brewing Co.

Joymongers’ patio overlooks the LoFi green space, a gathering place for runners and dog lovers. The park sits in the shadow of the Greenway at Fisher Park apartments and is just down a slight incline from Deep Roots, which is visible from a street that was once a maze of orange barrels.

On Thursday, all was quiet at this redesigned convergence of Smith Street, North Eugene Street and Battleground Avenue converge. And that’s by design.

City traffic engineers worked with Action Greensboro, which managed this project, to slow traffic on the roadways to emphasize pedestrian walkways and showcase the businesses that line this block that now functions as a small community square.

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It’s not a big piece of land, .16 acre, but LoFi Park is designed to have a big impact on the neighborhoods and businesses that depend on the intersections of North Eugene Street, Battleground Avenue and Smith Street.

On Saturday this small green space and its colorful art bench by artist Jeanette Brossart were dedicated to the city and neighborhood with a small festival and “Tasting Tour” of the breweries, restaurant and food store.

“This is the poster child for what the greenway can do to stimulate economic development,” said Dabney Sanders, Action Greensboro’s project manager for the Downtown Greenway, a $34 million public-private project that includes streetscapes, pocket parks like LoFi and a wide paved walkway suitable for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.

About 3/4 mile of the greenway is finished, a small part here and about a half-mile in the southwestern corner of downtown. Another 3/4 mile will be open by the end of October, when sections along Fisher Avenue and Bragg Street are completed.

The longest section, 2 miles along Murrow Boulevard, likely will begin construction in 2018.

Jim Jones, who with his brother developed the Greenway at Fisher Park apartments and Joymongers, said these corners will come alive as the greenway fills with people.

“It really means that the vision that we’ve had for years is coming to fruition,” Jones said. “When we developed those apartments, the whole idea was to create not only those apartment units but to create a walkable urban area that would allow a lot of businesses to come together.

“That park and the greenway is the piece that kind of sews that all together in a pedestrian way. That side of town had always been this big, six-lane corridor of Smith Street to get everybody in and Battleground to flush everybody out, and it has so much more potential than that.”

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As Granger finished up his run the other day, Sarah Ellis and Katelyn Mitchell were on the patio, finishing their beers at Joymongers before they left to play kickball.

Ellis and Mitchell had lived in the Greenway apartments before LoFi Park and the greenway were built here.

“It’s beautiful,” Ellis said. “I wish it would’ve been open when I lived here.”

Mitchell noted that Joymongers is a dog-friendly bar, and the park and greenway make it an even more attractive place for dog lovers to congregate.

“It makes it calmer and just prettier,” she said.

Ellis, 32, said she now lives in the Lindley Park neighborhood, but she said she is impressed with the space now that the orange barrels are gone.

When she lived here, she said, “the only thing there was Deep Roots. If I had known all of this was coming, I might have stayed there.”

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For months, Deep Roots has endured a maze of changing traffic patterns that bewildered its regular customers and scared away new ones. A local- and natural-foods market, Deep Roots faces stiff competition from big chains such as Whole Foods Market, but its manager said fortunes may be changing as LoFi becomes a real community.

“Ultimately, Deep Roots has so much potential to be the place to be in Greensboro as far as community togetherness and sharing good space and great food, and so the greenway and LoFi Park is only going to get us to that goal quicker,” said Nicole Villano, the market’s manager.

“There are so many folks in Greensboro who don’t know what Deep Roots is or that we exist. It’s definitely going to give us a big boost in accessibility and visibility.”

The store has reset its approach after a previous manager made some missteps that alienated longtime customers. Villano said the new streetscape will bring some needed attention to the store that is only now seeing an uptick in business.

Jones credits Action Greensboro with ultimately seeing the need to support such pocket neighborhoods and their businesses.

“We have a lot of millennials in our apartments, and that’s why they’re living downtown: to park their car when they come home after work and walk to entertainment,” Jones said. “Having those things within walking distance is a big-city experience. The world looks different walking than it does driving.”

And he said it doesn’t matter that the neighborhood has two breweries, a restaurant and a food market. In fact, competition only draws more people to an area that’s more comfortable for walking.

“We’re not competitors. We’re all small-business people supporting one another and drawing customers,” he said. “It’s not a zero-sum game.”

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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