This was supposed to be one of our finest hours — a banner year for Greensboro when a host of transformational projects was expected to bear fruit.
New downtown hotels and office buildings. A new performing arts center. The ACC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as first-round and second-round NCAA Tournament games.
We were on a roll, we thought ... until COVID-19 came along. So, on a balmy Friday night last week in the heart of downtown Greensboro, when the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts was supposed to open, streets were nearly deserted. And the shiny, 3,023-seat, $93 million facility was quiet and empty. All dressed up …
Now the virus takes center stage. Dine-in restaurants and bars remain closed, by the order of the governor. Amid all the lost opportunities — not to mention lost wages, tax revenue and business profits — the response by local government has been urgent and proactive.
Late last week, the City Council recommended gatherings of 10 or fewer people, lower even than Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide restriction of 50 or fewer. Among earlier steps the city took were closing recreation centers as well as all public libraries and other facilities. The city also rightly suspended cut-offs of water service for nonpayment and made city transit rides free. And on Tuesday, the city, in partnership with the nonprofit Greensboro Downtown Parks Inc., added portable toilets in Center City Park to provide additional means for the homeless to wash their hands. Plans also call for an additional potable water station.
Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers, meanwhile, has suspended the serving of eviction papers though April 17 so people may avoid becoming homeless during the crisis. In another prudent move, the sheriff also plans to release low-level offenders — because jails and prisons, by their nature, are ideal breeding grounds for the coronavirus.
Among the consequences of COVID-19 we didn’t see coming: Domestic-violence calls in March are up by 30% in Guilford County and 21% in High Point over last year’s numbers, adding to the list of challenges for law enforcement and social service agencies.
The new normal also means learning on the run. The Guilford County commissioners excluded the public and the press at their March 19 meeting. Reporters could view the meeting online but not ask questions. To their credit, the commissioners did follow with an in-person briefing the next day (reporters were screened before entry). But video conferencing seems an obvious solution going forward.
All in all, however, state and local responses to this extraordinary crisis have so far been level-headed and effective. According to a Monmouth University poll, the public rates Congress at only 42% in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, President Trump at 50% but the nation’s governors at 72%. The closer to the people, the better.
All you can do when something like this happens is deal with what is, rather than dwell on what might have been. And so far, local leaders are doing that. So, yes, that banner year we were expecting has been all but ripped to shreds by COVID-19.
But this may yet turn out to be one of our finest hours.