Gaston & Catawba

Residents push for downtown park

Looking for ways to make Hickory more attractive, residents are planning to turn a downtown parking lot into a park.

The group, Friends of Hickory, is starting a fundraising effort to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to redevelop the parking lot, which includes about 20 public parking spaces at the western end of Union Square.

The parking lot next to Community One Bank, at the intersection of Third Street N.W. and Main Avenue N.W.

A park there could help “keep the downtown lively,” said Allison Holtzman, a mother of four who formed the nonprofit group with her husband a little more than a year ago.

The group has completed the initial phase of a design process that included asking children what they would like to see at the park. The survey cost about $14,000, which was paid for by the Hickory Rotary Club.

Encompassing less than a half-acre, the park would have benches, a water feature and colorful, handicapped-accessible playground for various ages, from slides to a long seesaw to other, more modern structures with names like Galaxy and Supernova.

Its location is significant, Holtzman said, citing the farmers market and live music shows that take place there in warmer months. “The character of our city is much better reflected on Union Square,” she said. She noted the park would have a fence.

The 20 or so parking spaces there are regularly used during the workweek, mainly between late morning and early afternoon, though infrequently on weekends, according to city officials.

Removing those spaces will pose no major parking issues, city officials say, citing an adjacent parking lot the city intends to redesign to include about 170 public parking spaces.

The group has drawn about 300 members, some who live outside the city.

Among its major focal points is improving quality of life in Hickory. The idea is attract visitors and to “show people that this is a desirable community,” Holtzman said, which could help attract investment.

“The time is now,” she said of building the park.

That approach is not unlike that of the city’s, whose leaders are starting a process of selling $40 million in government bonds to finance beautification projects and infrastructure improvements during the next several years.

The bonds are part of a revitalization plan known as Inspiring Spaces and were approved by Hickory voters in two November referendums, which were promoted by a residents’ committee that included some members of Friends of Hickory.

Among the projects city leaders have already selected are two cycling and walking trails, one connecting Geitner-Rotary Park and L.P. Frans Stadium and the other Lenoir-Rhyne University and downtown.

As for the planned park, it has drawn unanimous support from city leaders, with Councilman Brad Lail describing it at a regular meeting earlier this month as a “fabulous idea.” He later added that while the city has its share of public spaces, the park would help make the downtown business district more appealing.

The project is expected to cost about $460,000, for which the group is applying for grants and seeking private and corporate donations. It is working with another nonprofit, Partners for Parks, which is based in Charlotte and is working to improve greenways, parks and other recreational space in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.

The group has set no time frame for construction, which would start no earlier than a fundraiser it plans to hold in June. The city has agreed to enter a memorandum of understanding with the group, which would turn the park over to the city after it opens.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we envisioned,” Mayor Rudy Wright said at the Jan. 6 meeting, referring to the park. He added that even though the city is focused on the bonding process, it is open additional public improvement projects by private groups.