It’s not just glitzy apartment buildings and fancy office towers undergoing a building boom in Charlotte these days. Mecklenburg County’s parks and greenways are getting some long-needed attention, too.
The county has 68 projects worth $130 million in the works – a resounding comeback in the county’s goals for green spaces after the economic downturn stalled many construction and renovation plans.
In budget talks this summer, county commissioners authorized spending more to open new and renovated park facilities, including $5.2 million for deferred maintenance at the county’s 210 parks and greenways. And Tuesday, they approved extending the amount of time the county can issue up to $100 million of $250 million in park and recreation bonds that voters approved in 2008.
That same year, the recession hit and “we couldn’t do a lot of projects,” County Manager Dena Diorio said. “Now, we’re gearing up.”
The projects were all mapped out over 10 years until the downturn, said Lee Jones, division director of capital planning services for parks and recreation. “We’re basically playing catch-up.”
Some of the projects are exclusively funded by the county. Others are the result of public-private partnerships with big-name developers or universities.
Here are five big projects taking shape:
▪ First Ward Park
The cost: $11.3 million
Planned debut: November 2015
The lowdown: The first phase of an urban village project in the works for decades, First Ward Park is more than 65 percent complete and on schedule to open this fall. Crews are building the park on 4 acres of former surface parking lots between Seventh Street at the ImaginOn children’s library and Ninth Street at UNC Charlotte’s Center City Building (i.e., the detours and road blocks).
Charlotte developer Daniel Levine owns the property, but the county will buy it from him once the park is built. Some amenities to expect include a large lawn for recreation and concerts, an interactive water fountain, flower beds, a rain garden and interactive swings designed by an artist. This week, crews were expected to start applying sod and irrigation to the landscape, Jones said.
▪ Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center
The cost: $9.3 million
Planned debut: April 2016
The lowdown: As part of a massive renovation of the aquatic center, crews have completely demolished the interior and have knocked out a wall to make room for additional seating. Plans call for the county to add new locker rooms, offices, restrooms, an expanded gallery, training/teaching pool area and support facilities at the center on 800 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
As for the outside, “we’re going to relocate some of the trees and change landscaping a bit,” Jones said.
The center has been closed since June, but officials plan it to reopen next April, just in time to host the SwimMAC Arena Pro Swim Series in May.
▪ Latta Nature Preserve improvements
The cost: $7.8 million
Planned debut: December 2017
The lowdown: Currently in the planning and design development phase, the county and Carolina Raptor Center are creating a new nature center at the Latta Nature Preserve in Huntersville that will include updated offices, a reception space and gift shops, Jones said.
The new center will replace the current, older one, and the raptor center will maintain its separate hospital, he said. Construction on a $100,000 kayak launch accessible from the nature preserve is already finished.
▪ Queens University Tennis Center
The cost: $3.8 million from the county; $1.5 million from donors to Queens University of Charlotte.
Planned debut: Courts available in fall 2016; center opening in fall 2017
The lowdown: Ground will break this fall on the tennis center at the Queens Sports Complex at the Marion Diehl Recreation Center on Tyvola Road. Once finished, the center will boast 13 tennis courts, a championship court, restrooms and an adjacent facility with meeting space and locker rooms for tennis, track and field and field hockey.
Once Queens builds the infrastructure for the courts and installs the conduit for utilities and water, the county will step in to install lighting and perform surface treatment on the courts to make the material sturdy and flexible, Jones said.
A Queens University of Charlotte spokeswoman said the school aims to make the courts available to the public next fall, and the entire tennis center open by fall 2017.
▪ Barton Creek Greenway
The cost: $1.6 million
Planned debut: July 2016
The lowdown: This greenway will connect J.W. Clay Boulevard and Mallard Creek Greenway in University City, giving the neighborhoods between those areas access to 9 miles of an existing greenway trail. Right now, engineers are conducting soil boring tests after finding evidence of a layer of rock near the trail’s surface.
Jones said the county plans to submit the project for construction bids this fall and hopes to start construction on the greenway in February.