As soon as he was hired to lead Mecklenburg County’s parks seven years ago, Jim Garges heard the same criticism people had been saying about uptown Charlotte for decades.
It had no life after 6 p.m. – it was nothing but a grand office park.
Now on Labor Day weekend, Garges wants everyone to look at uptown again and explore its latest addition – the 5.2-acre, $11 million park to honor renowned artist and Charlotte native Romare Bearden.
“It’s a game changer,” said Garges, director of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. “People aren’t laughing anymore about uptown. It’s become the place to be.”
It’ll take three days to grandly open the park that – with BB&T Ballpark next door and Bank of American Stadium blocks away – is sure to transform a piece of Third Ward that was once remnants of industrial buildings and gravel parking lots.
Starting Aug. 30, there are concerts planned, including country singer Jo Dee Messina on Aug. 31 and the Briarhoppers on Sept. 1. There will also be children’s activities, dancers, art and street performers.
On Tuesday, it looked like much work still needed to be done.
About 90 percent of the “hard scape” and landscaping is complete, and workers this week began laying down grass on two main lawns – one where there will be monthly concerts, Garges said.
What’s still dirt will soon be grass, he said.
“It’s going to be a wonderful space,” he said. “It will have all the passive areas where you can do your thing for unstructured play. But it will have facilitated play like concerts, too.”
A modern urban park
Bearden Park was part of a 2010 vision for uptown. Voters approved bonds to pay for it, but the recession sidelined plans to build it. Then the park became a key part of the 2020 plan that includes a park in each of the four uptown wards.
Fourth Ward has had its park for decades, and parks are planned for First and Second wards as centerpieces for mixed-use communities.
“Great urban parks are foundational elements of great urban places,” said Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, the uptown economic development group that helped assemble the land for Bearden Park. “It’s not Central Park. It’s not our Freedom Park. But this is a great, highly designed urban park.
“We’ve needed that kind of place for years.”
The park is bounded by Church, Third and Mint streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It was supposed to open in mid-June with performances by jazz singer Nnenna Freelon and the Branford Marsalis Quartet.
But after construction started in late 2011, bad weather forced numerous delays. In early May, Garges told county commissioners that the opening had to be pushed back to Labor Day weekend. So Freelon and the Marsalis quartet played at Freedom Park on June 14.
Garges is certain the park will be ready for the planned opening.
“There might be a few small things left to be done,” he said. “When the ballpark is done, I am convinced Romare Bearden Park is going to be a major gathering place for the community.”
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