December 28, 2012

Romare Bearden Park taking shape in uptown's Third Ward

Features of the 5.4-acre park will include gardens, walkways, a play area for children and spots where uptown workers can drop by for a lunchtime picnic.

The future Romare Bearden Park – expected to revitalize a lagging corner of uptown – is taking shape in Third Ward.

Construction crews are working to finish the 5.4-acre park in time for a June opening. Out of the red clay, they started to build a plaza that will be a play area for children. Other features will include gardens, walkways and spots where uptown workers can drop by for a lunchtime picnic.

The park – across from Latta Arcade and between Mint, Church and Third streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard – will be named for the Charlotte-born Bearden, one of the preeminent artists of the 20th century.

Next door is another emerging uptown catalyst – the BB&T Ballpark, which will be home to the Charlotte Knights minor-league baseball team beginning in 2014.

Local officials have said they believe both projects will help revamp Third Ward. The park already has helped attract some residential projects in the area, and could attract other development, said Cheryl Myers, senior vice president for planning and development at Charlotte Center City Partners.

For Mecklenburg County, the park also works toward a goal of having a major park in each of uptown’s four wards.

Others include Frazier Park, which is also in Third Ward off Fourth Street; Marshall Park in Second Ward; Fourth Ward Park and a planned park in First Ward near the UNC Charlotte Center City building.

Parks Director Jim Garges said he believes the new park in Third Ward will be a major focal point in uptown, drawing festivals, concerts and other events.

In fact, the county plans to mark the opening of the park in June with Romare Fest, a weekend event with music, other performances and family-friendly activities. Garges said a similar festival will be held annually to help highlight events that will be held in the coming year at the park.

Delayed for years

Bearden Park has been in the works for about a decade, and was spurred in part by the local 2010 Vision Plan. Myers said that plan recommended a new park in the city’s center that could be a gathering place for uptown residents and the greater community.

The county first bought land in Third Ward for a park in 2001, though the final site for the project was shifted as part of a complicated deal to make room for the Knights ballpark. Lawsuits over the land deal and a two-year spending freeze on county construction projects delayed the park.

But in 2011, county commissioners approved $11 million to build the park. A private fundraising campaign is hoping to reduce the amount of tax dollars needed and also generate money for ongoing maintenance of the park.

Garges said construction is on schedule, and the park should be substantially completed by May.

Leaders decided a few years ago to name the park in honor of Bearden, who was born in his great-grandfather’s home not too far from the park site. The groundbreaking for the park was held on Sept. 2, 2011, which would have been Bearden’s 100th birthday.

Various elements of the park were inspired by Bearden’s life and work, including two gardens named for Madeline Jones and Maudell Sleet, two frequent characters in some of Bearden’s work. Another section is inspired by Bearden’s time in Paris.

Earlier this month, officials announced that Chicago-based sculptor Richard Hunt was selected as the public artist for the park. His sculpture, tentatively called “Memory Place,” will have references to “Bearden’s artistic practice, traditions and inspirations” and conjure images like the Eiffel Tower and churches, according to a news release. The work is expected to be installed by next September.

Garges called the development of Bearden Park, and the way it incorporates elements from Bearden’s work, “a new type of park design.”

“It’s a celebration of arts and parks almost at the same time,” he said, “which I think is really unique.”

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