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We Are the Dreamers

The Gate City has positioned itself for a bright future

By Ogi Overman

Buckle up, buckaroos, it’s about to become boomtown around here. Or, we could call this burg Boomtown — as in Boom Supersonic. HondaJet headquarters is old news. In fact, it’s hard to look up without seeing one. But several other aero-related businesses are set to take off around PTI. You already likely know about the Toyota battery plant on the Guilford-Randolph county line and the UPS distribution plant in Mebane. Remember the FedEx hub way back when and the Publix Distribution Center in 2018. Two new hotels are going up downtown. And speaking of downtown, where do we start or stop: Tanger Center, Carroll properties, brew pubs and restaurants spring up like morel mushrooms. BOOM!

But let’s get nitty-gritty for one small paragraph. Did you know about Syngenta announcing its North American headquarters would stay in Greensboro in 2021 with a $68 million investment or Procter & Gamble’s $110 million investment in 2022, or LT Apparel Group’s $57 million investment? Ka-BOOM!

Yet, there’s still something missing. Let’s face it, most any city can boast of well-paying jobs, luxury hotels, entertainment and athletic venues, a downtown revival, parks and greenways. What Greensboro needs is something almost no other city has; something so unique and quirky, and downright unnecessary that it would make visitors go back home and tell their friends, “You have got to go to Greensboro!”

So, we threw logic — and practicality — to the wind and used our imagination to picture just a few of the possibilities (And we welcome your suggestions, the more far-fetched, the better):

Frozen Pond: The Piedmont Winterfest skating rink downtown is a nice idea, but it has its drawbacks: It’s temporary, has fake ice, and it costs money to skate.

This visionary sees a pond in summer and a skating rink in winter. Let’s say you dig a shallow hole, pipe in some water and lay some hockey pipes and a chilling system underneath. You freeze it the day of our downtown Christmas celebration, “Festival of Lights,” the first Friday of December.

Then, in early April, you thaw it out and it becomes a reflecting pond — but not just any pond. You put a fountain in the middle that changes colors and arrays. It also has an LED color-changing system underneath and officially turns on the night of the home season opener for the Grasshoppers.

Around the perimeter you have benches, kiosks and roving singers. In summer, the vendors sell sodas, sparkling water and ice cream; and in winter, coffee and hot chocolate. The roving singers might be everything from carolers to Bel Canto singers to barbershop quartets to folk groups to Grimsley’s madrigal singers — you name it.

When the U.S. Figure Skating Championships return to the Coliseum a few Januarys hence, we’ll be ready for it.

Downtown Trolley: Granted, trolleys are not exactly a unique idea, but they generally cruise around tourist towns such as Gatlinburg, Tenn. Ours will be both functional for townsfolk and fun for out-of-towners.

During lunchtime, two trolleys, eco-friendly, of course, run up and down Elm Street, taking workers to and from lunch, boosting business at downtown eateries, and solving potential parking and traffic problems.

In the evening, passengers catch a ride from Hamburger Square, the downtown hotels, UNCG, Greensboro College, NC A&T, and other gathering spots, to and from the ballpark on game nights, and Tanger Center on event nights.

Electric Car Grand Prix: OK, Charlotte is the hub of NASCAR (it could’ve been Greensboro, but that’s a whole ’nother story), but there is a huge opportunity for Greensboro to be on the vanguard of a burgeoning form of motorsports — Formula E.

Like it or not, gasoline-powered vehicles are on the way out, and that includes race cars. Formed in 2014, the wave of the future is called the ABB FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) Formula E World Championship and now holds races all across Europe as well as Mexico City. As of now, the only Formula E race in the U.S. is held in Portland, Ore.

Here’s how it would work in Greensboro: The hub is at War Memorial Stadium. With very little infrastructure change, the field becomes the garage (not to conflict with NC A&T’s baseball season). The start/finish line is the corner of Yanceyville and Lindsay, and the pits are alongside Lindsay, toward town. The cars depart in front of the stadium, to the right, then loop onto Wendover. Loop again onto Westover, pass Grimsley High School, then left at Benjamin Parkway which turns into Smith Street, and onto Murrow Boulevard, reaching the home stretch on Lindsay.

First, though, we need a sponsor. Hello, Toyota?

The World’s Largest Beer Bottle: Since we’re already informally known as “Greensbeero,” why not make it official? Imagine the touristas who will flock here to pose in front of the World’s Largest Beer Bottle, not to mention the locals who just love to sample the dozens of locally brewed craft beers inside. Yes, I said inside.

The bottle will be made of glass block and needs to be three- or four-stories high. A spiral staircase — with a handrail, of course — will reach to the top, with a landing at each story, stocked with several taps serving up Greensboro’s and the state’s distinctive brews.

For the earthbound patrons, a checkerboard dance floor will beckon them to shake a leg. A state-of-the-art sound system, disguised as a jukebox, will play hits from every decade, from the ’50s to the present, one decade each night of the week. Monday you might hear Danny and the Juniors, to Sunday’s fare by Machine Gun Kelly

For the daring, a telescope on top looks down on the ’Hoppers game or up to the moon. Bottoms up!

Century Boulevard: This one will take a big buy-in from the business owners to the city, state and federal governments. And a little help from a Tanger or LeBauer type wouldn’t hurt. But wowsers, would the end product be worth it.

Elm Street becomes Century Boulevard, celebrating the 20th Century, one block per decade. Starting at Old Greensborough and running to Fishers Grille, each store on each block will (as much as possible) be a re-creation of the décor, storefront design, fashion, music, food, lingo, attire, autos and trappings of that era. In one afternoon, tourists — and there will be plenty — may take a virtual tour of the century. The music, for instance, will range from Tin Pan Alley to Boogie Woogie to Big Band to Crooners to Elvis to Brit Invasion to Disco to Metal to Grunge to Pop Punk to whatever Gen X-ers listened to.

This will be by far the biggest, most expensive and most farfetched undertaking Greensboroians have ever envisioned. But, as a wise man once said, “Good things happen when nobody cares who gets the credit.”  OH

Ogi Overman has been a mainstay on the Central NC journalism scene since 1984. He is currently compiling a book of his columns.