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Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny looks ahead to the future

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- New restaurants. New Hotels. A new park. No doubt downtown Greensboro’s solidifying itself as a Piedmont Triad destination point. And Zach Matheny is a driving force behind it.

Matheny’s no stranger to public life having served seven-and-a-half years on the Greensboro City Council. Friday, July 1, will mark his one-year anniversary on his current job, president of the nonprofit Downtown Greensboro, Incorporated. DGI gets $600,000 a year from the city.

“It’s all things downtown,” he told me as he described DGI. “Branding, marketing, getting folks to visit downtown, economic development. I think if you don’t progress, you’re going backwards.”

And there is tangible progress: the transformation of the troubled Lotus Lounge on Lewis Street in to a planned arcade bar, the Union Square Campus where students will train for health careers, the $40-50 million renovation project at Lincoln Financial, the $50 million hotel, residential, and retail development known at Bellmeade Village, not to mention the new Tanger Performing Arts Center.

Matheny says all that’s great, but he’s constantly looking to make downtown better with one key goal in mind.

“We’ve got about 2,400 people living downtown,” he said. “I would love to see it get to 7,000, 8,000. That’s when you get a grocery store. That’s when you get vibrancy. That’s when you get more merchants, restaurants that are open seven days a week versus five. We’ve got to properly market. We’ve got to properly brand.”

DGI also needs to, Matheny says, bring more people downtown via special events. If more people visit downtown there’s a greater chance of convincing them to live there. City Market and First Friday are two events DGI’s involved with. This year, for the first time, it will run Greensboro’s Fun Fourth Festival which traditionally has drawn between 50,000 and 75,000 people.

Matheny has moved that entire festival downtown, including the fireworks. He said the Lincoln Financial Parking Lot across East Market Street from the News & Record building should be the best fireworks viewing area.

Other priorities for Matheny and DGI include constantly looking for new businesses and businesses to fill vacant storefronts, supporting the International Civil Rights Museum to keep it open, making sure parking’s convenient and affordable, (He’s a proponent of free parking downtown for the first two hours and getting rid of the meters.) and keeping downtown safe which, he says, the statistics prove it is.

He would also like the City Council to add $25 million to a possible bond referendum on the November ballot to improve lighting, sidewalks and landscaping to parts of downtown outside the Elm Street corridor -- like Church Street near the depot.

“The flight to urbanism is real,” he told me. “People want to be around something that’s energetic, exciting.”

For more information on Downtown Greensboro, Inc., click here.