Mooresville is moving ahead with a plan to turn a downtown park into what would become its first outdoor event venue.
The planned makeover of Liberty Park is still in its early stages, receiving initial approval from commissioners earlier this month. But it likely will involve building an amphitheater and a pavilion for farmers’ markets and other community events.
Meant to help revitalize downtown and encourage investment, it was described by Mayor Miles Atkins as a “transformative project” that has drawn “favorable support” from town leaders and officials, including those with its downtown commission.
A 6-acre strip in the heart of downtown, Liberty Park is in bad shape, needing improvements more than any of the more than the dozen parks the town owns, said Daniel Stines, parks and recreation supervisor for the town’s Cultural and Recreation Services department. He was citing a draft parks and recreation master plan that is based partly on public comment.
The last time it saw a major upgrade was perhaps eight years ago, at its ball field, he noted. That field, along with basketball courts that Stines said “have seen better days,” would be cleared as part of the renovation, though its playground and surrounding wooded area would remain.
Given its central location, the town envisions remaking the park into a backdrop for community events, festivals and music shows. Besides plans for an amphitheater at one end and a pavilion for farmers markets at the other, with a strip of lawn in between, the renovation could include walking trails, concession stands and a permanent grandstand, along with restrooms, Stines said.
Funding for the makeover would come from general obligation bonds for recreation improvements that town voters approved in a referendum last spring.
In addition, the town is considering improving some streetscapes between the park and the Mitchell Community College branch campus, only a few blocks away, as well as building a pedestrian walkway at the park entrance. The improvements would cover Broad, Church and Main streets and Moore Avenue.
Officials say they haven’t decided how the town would pay for those improvements, which could take place concurrently with the park renovation. It could use more bond funds, in this case for transportation projects, that voters approved in a separate referendum last spring, Atkins said.
The idea to make over Liberty Park was recommended last November at a mayors’ conference on urban design that Atkins attended. Months later, in February, commissioners discussed the proposal, which also included the streetscape improvements.
At a Nov. 2 meeting, commissioners unanimously voted to award a contract worth as much as $120,000 to an architecture firm to carry out the design phase. The firm, Stewart Design & Architecture, has also agreed to handle the bidding process for the renovation, with the town granting final approval.
That phase is expected to last six to eight months and could begin as soon as the end of this month. It will seek to include public comment.
As for how long the renovation will take, as well as how much it is expected to cost, that remains undetermined, said Dick Poore, director of cultural and recreation services for the town.
Beyond improving quality of life, the park makeover and the streetscape improvements could help attract private investment downtown, possibly leading to the demolition of an old vacant mill adjoining the park.
The mill was renovated long ago to make way for office space but has since fallen into poor condition. While it is only a single story, it stretches half a block, blocking views of part of the park.
Passing by it on Church Street, “you wouldn’t even know it existed,” Atkins said. He noted the owners of the mill, who are from Charlotte, appeared to have expressed interest in considering tearing it down, in what could clear the way for a mixed-use development there.
Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org