First Ward Park now open: Free food, music and tours

With songs from local schoolchildren and a quick snip of a ribbon, local officials opened uptown’s newest park Tuesday in First Ward.

Also scheduled Tuesday: A holiday lighting ceremony, free food and drinks, music and tours.

“This park is helping to redefine the community of First Ward,” said Mecklenburg County Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller. Children from area elementary schools sung songs and took turns describing what they’re looking forward to in the new park.

“I’m excited to have lots of room to run and play,” said one.

First Ward Park is located on four acres that used to be surface parking lots between East Seventh and Ninth streets, along the light rail extension tracks. The land was owned by Levine Properties, which built the park. Mecklenburg County will take ownership of First Ward Park next month, paying Levine Properties $8 million. The company will also receive $3.3 million from the city and county for improvements around the site, such as sidewalks and streets.

The park, between the ImaginOn library and UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus, is expected to anchor a major redevelopment of the area, much of which is still surface parking owned by Levine Properties.

The company’s president, Daniel Levine, has said he plans to build two hotels, an office tower, apartments and retail spaces around the park. He is also marketing one of the surrounding parcels for sale to a developer and renovating the historic Philip Carey warehouse on East Seventh Street for an undisclosed tenant. Levine on Tuesday confirmed rumors that the tenant will be Google, which is opening an ultra-fast fiber Internet network in Charlotte.

Officials are hoping the effect is similar to that of Romare Bearden Park and the BB&T Ballpark in Third Ward, which helped touch off a wave of new apartments, offices, hotels and restaurants.

Levine, whose company has been criticized for its slow pace of development, said the pieces are now in place to make his plans come true.

“While we’ve been very intentional – some might say slow to the party – about developing the land around this park...all of the anchors are now in place,” said Levine.

Here’s what’s set to happen Tuesday as officials open the park to the public:

Dedication: At 10:30 a.m., local officials will hold a dedication for the park, with brief remarks and performances by local schools.

Tours: From noon to 6:30 p.m., you can drop by the park for tours, hot chocolate, music and light refreshments.

Samples: From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., merchants from the Seventh Street Public Market and Brixx Pizza will be on hand giving out samples. Vendors include Carolina Chocolate Company, Orrman’s Cheese Shop, Assorted Table Wine Shoppe, Viva Raw and Not Just Coffee.

Lights: At about 5:30 p.m., the park’s holiday lights will be turned on for the first time.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo