PGI offers to save historic Cascade Saloon


With a fate that has been hanging in the balance for years, the historic Cascade Saloon on Elm street may be saved through an offer made to the City of Greensboro by Preservation Greensboro Inc.

Cascade Saloon is one of the oldest structures in downtown Greensboro, and in desperate need of stabilization. The building is currently owned by the City of Greensboro, and on July 10 members of City Council reviewed their options on what to do with the structure.

Assistant City Manager David Parrish presented the best bids received by the City to preserve or demolish the structure. The best demolition bid came back with an estimated cost of $600,000. This shocked some members of Council.

“How can the Greensboro Inn be torn down for $35,000 and this one would be so much more expensive?” said councilman Tony Wilkins.

Cascade’s Saloon proximity to the railroad tracks would complicate demolition. Permits would be needed to ensure that crews would not disrupt the railway traffic, which according to Mayor Nancy Vaughan, sees 65 trains pass through downtown every day.

A recent bid from PGI offered to take the property from the City in order to secure and preserve the building. PGI asks that the City pay them $170,000 to help subsidize the cost of stabilizing the structure.

“This is much better than the initial plan,” said councilman Zack Matheny. “The city can save money. Financially for the City this is a lot better deal than we had anticipated.”

Other members of council were skeptical.

“What if people can’t get to the Cantina and other businesses nearby while construction is going on?” said council member Sharon Hightower.

Other council members argued that the risk of disrupting local businesses was a lesser concern compared to the benefit of preserving a historic building for $430,000 less than the cost of demolishing it.

“We have to make the best decision for the city,” said council member Nancy Hoffman. “Not just one person.”

Matheny added that the City of Greensboro was not a good landlord, and that it would be better for the building to be owned by PGI anyway.

Council decided that they needed more information from PGI about the intended future of Cascade Saloon before they could make a decision about the bid.

“Because we don’t know the end use, we can’t make that decision right now,” said Mayor Vaughan.

Heritage House : Up close and personal

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The first thing you feel is the heat. The weight of the oppressive air hits you just before the odor. It’s the odor that is hardest to deal with, the smell of urine, heaviest in the stairwell, lingers still in the hallway on the first floor.

On the second floor I could take only about five minutes of the combined heat and odor. But the pitch-black darkness of the second floor added to the disturbing thought that people, including 50 children, live here.

It’s called Heritage House. I’m not sure whose heritage is embodied here, but the future needs to be different. People shouldn’t be living like this. Residents and community activists have been making noise for a couple of weeks, but I had no idea the conditions would be this bad. Not a just  a few miles from where the city and the private sector plan to spend $60 million or so on a high-class performing arts center.

An estimated 177 people live in the Heritage House. The few residents I spoke to described an open ended drug market in the courtyard and in the hallways. One man who spoke to me as I left said young men stand in the hallways, much like the black as night hallway I walked through on the second floor, and offer to sell drugs.

“What do you need, man? I hear that every day,” David said.

Police have been called to Heritage House 2,860 times in the last 12 months, according to city officials. David says that police come in the front looking for drug dealers who run out the back, through an alley and up to the storefronts on Randleman Road.

Another resident agreed with City Councilman Mike Barber, who called for Heritage House to be shut down. The resident said the only hope for the place, which her mother has lived in for four years, is for everything to be torn out and replaced. The carpet, the furniture, the windows. I came across a pair of home health nurses leaving in disgust. They had been there to make an initial visit with a client, but police advised them it was not a good time, as inspectors where on that person’s floor just then. The nurses said they would not be coming back. One of them described it as the worst place she’d ever visited.

An animated owner who I came across just before leaving said that he does his best to screen his clients. But with no one controlling owner, and a weak homeowners association that currently is $55,000 behind on its water bill, there seemed little he could do to force compliance from others.

The man said part of the problem was that the city had shut down low-cost motels like Greensboro Inn and that those residents, who need the least affordable housing possible, had simply migrated, along with drug dealing, prostitution and other crimes, to the Heritage House.

City officials swept through the seven-story complex on Meadowview Road, about 100 yards from the glimmering glass front of the city’s transportation operations center. Police provided security for inspectors, who had reached the fifth floor by later Wednesday. After a press conference at the transportation center, where District 1 Councilwoman Sharon Hightower spoke forcefully about the city’s intention to improve conditions there, media types were allowed an hour or two in the early afternoon to talk with residents and interact with city workers doing their best amidst the heat of a hot summer day.

Stunned residents, many in wheelchairs or with canes, seemed to grasp what bit of dignity they could as they went about their business amidst the frenzy of attention.

One is left wondering why the proper attention or enforcement was lacking in the first place, a question few city officials seemed prepared to answer.



Greensboro City Council Flustered by Bill from Higher State Powers

Council members were noticeably uncomfortable while expressing their general lack of faith in a resolution to support a student prayer and religious activities bill passed by the NC House on June 4.

The resolution was introduced by Councilman Tony Wilkins, who felt that SB 370 clarified confusion among administrators and students.

The first amendment already protects the religious freedoms of students in schools. The NC ACLU opposes the bill, which it called problematic.

“The right of students to voluntarily express and practice their faith in public schools is already well-established and protected by the First Amendment,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “Some of this bill’s unnecessary and confusing language could wrongly encourage public school personnel to takes sides in student-led religious activity, making students with different beliefs feel excluded or ostracized not only by their classmates, but also by their teachers and schools.”

Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter was concerned that the bill might encourage faithful students to become more aggressive in proselytizing to their public school peers.

“I believe that moments of silence allow everyone to pray; you’re not co-mingling church and state,” said Abuzuaiter. “This allows students to distribute literature. This part concerns me.”

Mayor Vaughan voiced concern that it was not the place of City Council to take a stance on the issue. Vaughan felt that the bill was under the jurisdiction of the School Board.

“I feel that this is a resolution that should come from the School Board,” Vaughan said. “We’ve had concerns over what the legislature has been doing to us by overstepping into areas of our authority, and I feel that we would be doing the same thing here to the School Board.”

“This isn’t us telling the School Board what to do, it’s the state,” said Wilkins.

Councilman Jamal Fox also agreed that it was a School Board issue, even though he expressed his agreement with the first part of the bill, which explains what students are allowed to do while at school.

Councilman Zack Matheny felt that he had to support the resolution as an advocate for free speech, but made it clear that he was unhappy about having to vote on it at all.

“I don’t like these resolutions,” said Matheny. “We bring them up and I complain about them every time. We’re talking about something where we don’t really have any say-so whatsoever.”

Councilman Mike Barber was also frustrated by presence of the bill on the supplemental agenda, and felt it was an example of the NC General Assembly’s lack of priorities.

“Here in this Council we’re doing things where the rubber meets the road,” said Barber. “I wish our state legislators spent as much time on more pertinent issues. I commend Tony for bringing this to us but this is one that I just can’t support.”

Sharon Hightower voted to support the resolution after expressing her apprehension over the consequences of the grievance process outlined in the bill.

“When I see Raleigh stepping up to something like this I’m a little leery of the reason behind it,” said Hightower. “I’m not against religion at all. I’m just afraid that supporting this with the grievance process will get people going back and forth in court.”

Matheny and Wilkins voted to pass the resolution along with Hightower, but ultimately the bill failed to pass on a vote of three to six.

Greensboro Proposes False Alarm Fee Increase

The Greensboro Fire and Police Departments currently lose about $1 million a year responding to alarms that were set off in error. During a City Council work session on May 27, members expressed concern over this waste of taxpayer dollars and proposed two solutions to help recoup some of the funds. At a work session on June 12, Council agreed on a final proposal for the fee changes.

Currently, the City charges a $50 fee for three of more false alarms at a property within a 12-month period. These charges bring in about $120,000 a year and only cover a fraction the cost required to address all the false alarms in the City.

At the May 27 work session Council members proposed enforcing higher fees. The proposal recommended that the City charge a fee of $50 starting with the second false alarm occurrence. This proposal would bring in an estimated additional $180,000 to help cover the public safety cost of addressing false alarms.

Councilman Jamal Fox proposed an even more aggressive fee system that would charge a $100 penalty beginning with the second false alarm. This proposal would increase revenue by an additional $400,000.

Council members felt that while Fox’s proposal was too severe, the revenue from the first proposed fee increase would not be sufficient.

Councilman Zack Matheny suggested a compromise between the two proposals with a $50 false alarm fee beginning with the second instance, and a $100 fee starting with the third occurrence. Council members quickly decided to adopt this Goldilocks option into the recommended budget, which is scheduled for a final vote on June 17.

The City of Greensboro defines false alarms as:

  1. Negligently activated signals that are the result of faulty or malfunctioning equipment.
  2. Signals activated to test the alarm systems that have not been approved by the Greensboro Police Department
  3. Signals that are purposely activated to summon police personnel in non-emergency

Chief Ken Miller recommended that part of the ordinance should emphasize the importance of having property owners register their alarm information with the Police Department.

Winston-Salem currently fines property owners a $100 penalty for false alarms from unregistered units. Otherwise the City charges a $50 fee for the fourth and fifth false alarm occurrence within 12 months, $100 for the sixth and seventh, $250 for the eighth and ninth, and $500 after ten or more occurrences.

Architectural Salvage to Receive Supplemental Funding for Involuntary Move


Greensboro City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday night to authorize the City Manager to enter into a supplemental agreement to provide funding for Architectural Salvage’s imminent move.

Architectural Salvage is a program of Preservation Greensboro that collects materials from historic properties that are scheduled to be razed. Since 1993 Architectural Salvage has kept an estimated 20 tons of construction debris from being dumped into landfills. The program also allows the City to receive federal funding by keeping the City in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Architectural Salvage has been located at the 90-year-old, 15,800 square foot building at 300 Bellameade St since 1998.

The property was purchased by the Carroll Fund, an entity of Carroll Companies, owned by Roy Carroll. Carroll is the developer behind major projects in Greensboro that include Centerpointe on Elm St., Hayleigh Village, Innisbrook and the Shops at Brittway.

Carroll plans to demolish the building to make room for a $50 million mixed-use development project. Architectural Salvage must be out of the building by June 15.

On May 19 Preservation Greensboro sent a letter to City Manager, Jim Westmoreland, requesting that the city assist with the financial burden of the organization’s move.

The letter states, “Since ASG provides recycling of old building materials, keeps tons of construction waste from the landfills and provides a conduit for the City to use in obtaining federal grants, we are requesting the City assist ASG with its involuntary move from its current location.” Preservation Greensboro attached an estimate of $18,00 from Delancey Street Moving & Transportation.

Council briefly shared their support for the work done by Architectural Salvage before resolving to fund the organization the full $18,000. Members were impressed by the amount of material Architectural Salvage has been able to keep out of City landfills.

Councilman Zack Matheny said, “I consider this a thank you for saving the taxpayers money.”

Sharon Hightower said that Architectural Salvage had been very helpful during the restoration of Magnolia Manor outside of Greensboro. (see correction.)

Architectural Salvage will be moving away from downtown to a new location on Wendover Avenue.

IMG_0377Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the location of Magnolia Manor just outside of Greensboro in Colfax.


Bid Protest Denied By GTA Board

At the Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA) board meeting on Wednesday night, an out-of-court hearing was held to determine whether the board would uphold or deny the protest petition from First Transit.

First Transit filed the bid protest on May 15 after a bidding process resulted in GTA deciding to approve a contract with Veolia, the company that has run the bus transit system in Greensboro since 2002. First Transit argued that the bid process had been, “arbitrary, capricious and wrongful.”

First Transit currently runs bus transit systems in over 250 cities, including Raleigh’s Wolfline at NC State.

Tom Terrell, the attorney representing First Transit, argued that the bid process was flawed. The selection committee of eight evaluated the contracts using a cumulative scoring process, so that even though five of the members of the selection committee scored First Transit higher, Veolia had the overall better cumulative score. First Transit contended that this was unfair.

First Transit accused the selection committee of being biased towards Veolia due to the City’s preexisting relationship with the contractor. James Dickens, the attorney representing GTA, denied this.

Even though First Transit submitted a less costly proposal than Veolia, the selection committee used what Dickens called “qualitative components” to determine which contract had the “best value”. First Transit contested this process as arbitrary and argued that the selection committee therefore did not choose the contract that presented the “best value.”

First Transit disputed the selection committee’s assessment while adding that it was irresponsible of the committee to choose a more costly contract when the GTA was in the midst of financial struggles.

Mike Fox represented Veolia and accused First Transit of being sore losers and lashing out at the GTA. In response to First Transit’s protest Fox said, “It’s an attack on your process because they weren’t chosen.”

Fox warned the board that upholding a protest bid such as this one could open the door for any other contractors to file a protest with the City just because they lost out on a bid.

Fox said, “If you go down this road then you’re setting up a terrible precedent.”

After all parties presented their case, GTA board members briefly discussed the matter. The board came to the conclusion that the real question at hand was whether or not the bid selection process had been fair.

Ultimately the board decided that they felt the bid selection process was good and that it had been fair. The board voted to deny the petition protest from First Transit. The only dissident vote came from Kristen Jeffers, a blogger for The Black Urbanist.

After the GTA board’s vote, First Transit was informed that they had three days to file an appeal to Greensboro’s City Council. If First Transit does not appeal the decision then the denial from the GTA board will be final. If First Transit does appeal, then City Council would be faced with the decision to go against a branch of their own city government or risk First Transit filing a lawsuit in response to an unfavorable decision.

Greensboro Looks for Creative Ideas to Improve Budget

Members of Greensboro’s City Council are brainstorming to find any last-minute ways to decrease City expenditures in the budget before presenting a public hearing on the proposal on June 3.

At a work session on Tuesday afternoon Council members looked for creative solutions that wouldn’t force the City to cut services or City employees.

While Councilman Jamal Fox praised the City Manager for increasing the number of vacation days for City employees from 11 to 12, Councilman Zack Matheny thought it was a bad idea.

“I don’t like that. We’ve already got good vacation here,” said Matheny. “The City needs to be open to the people.”

Fox and Matheny did agree on increasing false alarm fees. The Fire Department currently spends $1 million a year responding to alarms that were set off in error. The current fee is $50 for the second false alarm from a location, but increasing that fee to $100 would make up for that sunk cost.

“People are going to be mad at you,” said Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson to Fox.

Councilman Tony Wilkins offered the suggestion that the City could start charging user fees for leaf collection. Most other members of Council were strongly against the idea and felt the revenue gained from the fees might not even make of for the cost of implementing such a collection program.

“What about selling them oversees then,” said Wilkins, “We have some good nutrient-rich leaves here.”

Wilkins also suggested increasing ticket prices at the Coliseum by $1. Mayor Vaughan was receptive to the idea and agreed with Councilwoman Sharon Hightower that a $1 ticket increase would not deter people from purchasing tickets that are $35 or more to begin with.

The subject of parking at the Coliseum led to Council to another creative solution. Wilkins expressed frustration that you must have cash in the form of singles to pay for parking at the Coliseum and suggested the City create a way for people to pay for parking in advance and with their credit cards when they first buy their ticket online. The City of Raleigh already has a similar system for the Raleigh Amphitheatre.

“This is 2014 and you can’t buy concessions or park with a card,” said Wilkins

Mayor Vaughan liked the idea and even took it a step further by suggesting that Greensboro residents receive preferred parking at Coliseum events.

There will be another work session to review and tweak the recommended budget before its adoption in mid-June.

Teen Summit Planned for Next Saturday in Greensboro


The City of Greensboro is hosting a summit to inform teens about programs and community events they can do over the summer.  The Teen Summit will be held on downtown on Saturday, May 31st.

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower promoted the event at the end of the last City Council meeting and again at the end of the East Greensboro Study Committee meeting on Thursday afternoon.

“There’s going to be free food, it’s going to be fun and hopefully it will encourage kids to stay busy and out of trouble,” said Hightower.

Guildford County School students end the school year on June 19th this year. For a bored, unsupervised kid with working parents and nothing else to do, summer vacation can lead to problems.

The City Summit will have more than 15 local service providers there to advise and inform teens about different career paths and how they can get involved in their communities.  Members of City Council will also be there to encourage teens to get participate in local government.

The Teen Summit will be held from 3-6pm on Saturday at the Greensboro Cultural Center on 200 N. Davie Street.

Hydropower Settlement Reveals $25M Retention Fund in Greensboro

Deliberations over a Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority hydropower lawsuit settlement caused City Council to review the current $25 million risk retention fund for the city of Greensboro.

Council members expressed concern that residents might continue to sue the city even if the City approved the $1.2 million settlement.

“As long as there are lawyers on the face of the earth, we can’t do anything to protect ourselves,” said Tom Phillips, current Director of Piedmont Triad Water Authority for the City of Greensboro.

Council asked Phillips, a 22-year veteran for the Water Authority, to share his thoughts on whether or not the settlement was fair. “I wouldn’t say it’s fair, but it’s reasonable,” said Phillips

“It appears that a lot of dirty politics played out in this decision,” said Councilman Tony Wilkins. Wilkins then referred to reports that the judge in the case had ruled in favor of a company associated with Senator Kay Hagan’s husband after Senator Hagan had nominated the judge to a lifetime appointment.

“I could talk all night about the things that were wrong with that case,” said Phillips.

Despite the dirty politics the Water Authority had voted in agreement with the settlement almost unanimously.

Ultimately City Council decided that a settlement was in the best interest of the City and passed the item.

“If we vote against this then we are voting against our own interlocal government,” said Mayor Vaughan. “It’s not a great decision but it’s one that I feel we are bound to go with.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower then asked where the City would get the money for the settlement. Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmoreland explained that the City has a $25 million risk retention fund to cover liability claims.

This was news to most of City Council, including Mayor Nancy Vaughan. Greensboro City Attorney Tom Carruthers said that the City of Greensboro puts about $2 million into the fund each year.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Mayor Vaughan, who struggled with the reasoning behind maintaining such a large fund that rarely experiences a significant payout.

The fund covers four types of liabilities, including legal protection of City Council members.

Carruthers said that the litigation surrounding the 2006 Duke Lacrosse case had exhausted the City of Durham’s legal resources.

“It sounds like you have seen what other cities keep in their policies,” said Councilwoman Marikay Abuzaiter in defense of Westmoreland’s maintenance of the fund. “This is not just something that’s out of the blue and hasn’t been well vetted and researched.”

Council postponed a vote to continue paying into the resource fund until they could have time to review the fund’s balance history for the last 10 years.

GTA Costs Spark Heated Debate at City Council Meeting


Things became heated between representatives of Greensboro’s Transit Authority (GTA) and some members of City Council on Tuesday night over the cost of maintaining the service.

The discussion began during the public comment portion of the meeting.  Greensboro resident Lonnie Cunningham urged Council to consider a bond referendum to continue to subsidize the cost of bus fares at the current rate.

Cunningham suggested that one way to pay for the bus system would be to have a youth group collect all the campaign signs left around the City and send a bill to the candidates.

Cunningham also pointed out that buses in Chapel Hill are free.

“Chapel Hill has free buses because UNC subsidizes it,” Mayor Vaughan responded.  Council members chimed in to say that the City does take public transportation seriously and that they already heavily subsidize the cost of bus fares, which are currently $1.50 per trip for riders.

Bruce Adams, the Senior Operations Planner for the GTA, presented the program of projects for the GTA for the upcoming fiscal year. The program includes the addition of hybrid buses, which cost 40 to 50 percent more than regular buses. The recurrent maintenance is less costly with hybrid buses, but GTA representatives did concede that there is a high replacement cost for batteries that only last about five years.

Councilman Zack Matheny jumped on the discussion. Matheny, who has advocated for increasing the price of bus fares by twenty cents, pointed out that the GTA costs the City of Greensboro around $23 million each year, and at a rate of $35 per bus ride.

“If we raise the rates could we not do more to help GTA?” asked Matheny. “The cost of buses is going up.  The cost of fuel is going up. Do you see where I’m going with this?”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower expressed her strong disagreement with Matheny on the issue, but eventually they decided to table the discussion for now and agree to disagree.

A twenty cent increase would add up for members of the community who rely on public transportation to get around everyday. A person making two or three round trips a day could end up paying an extra dollar a day.

Matheny demonstrated that this issue will most likely be a priority for him in the future. “You’re probably going to hear a lot more about this from me,” said Matheny.