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GREENSBORO EYES MAKING CHANGES TO MURAL PARK\ A CITY WITH ANY CLASS NEEDS AT LEAST ONE DOWNTOWN PARK, GREENSBORO OFFICIALS SAID WEDNESDAY.
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GREENSBORO EYES MAKING CHANGES TO MURAL PARK\ A CITY WITH ANY CLASS NEEDS AT LEAST ONE DOWNTOWN PARK, GREENSBORO OFFICIALS SAID WEDNESDAY.

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Sure, sell the city-owned Mural Park in downtown Greensboro to make way for new retail shops and apartments. But don't abandon the idea of center-city parks.

The municipal Parks & Recreation Commission made that suggestion Wednesday as it unanimously endorsed a plan by Beverly Morcos, part owner of the brick wall adorned by the park's namesake mural at South Elm and West Washington streets.Morcos wants to tear down the mural wall and replace it with several shops and a restaurant on the ground floor and apartments on two upper stories. The businesses would open into what is now the mural wall - the Washington Street side of the storefront that Morcos owns at 236 S. Elm St. next to the park.

To make her plan work, Morcos wants to turn part of the small public park into a plaza in front of the new shops.

``If this park could be replaced with another in the immediate area, I would feel better,' commission member Rose Marie Ponton said.

``This is a very difficult decision for us, giving up open space,' said Kevin Green, the commission's chairman. ``Every good city that I've ever gone to had a park in the downtown.'

The commission's recommendation will go to the City Council, which has the last word on the proposed deal. As part of its recommendation, the commission urged the council to ``actively pursue' more park space downtown.

Mural Park gets its name from a mural of Greensboro in the 19th century that is painted on the exterior wall. That wall is owned jointly by Morcos and city government. The small corner park next to the mural includes a brick sidewalk, a bench and landscaping.

The mural and park have been downtown fixtures for years, but city officials say the wall is unstable and in danger of toppling.

The wall is a leftover from the building that once stood where the park is now. Greensboro bought that building 25 years ago as part of the widening of Washington Street. It eventually demolished the structure, creating the vacant lot that later became Mural Park.

Local artist Wendy Wallace painted the mural on the 100-year-old wall in 1981 as part of a beautification project.

If Morcos' proposal is approved by the City Council, she agrees to maintain the new plaza as a park for at least 25 years. She also would pay the city $48,000 for the land.

But the entire transaction ultimately would cost city taxpayers $154,000, said Terry Wood, deputy city attorney.

That's because city government caused the structural problems in the mural wall. After it tore down the building next to Morcos' storefront, the city did not properly reinforce the wall that it shares with Morcos, Wood told the commission.

The city has agreed to reimburse Morcos $202,000 for the lapse, Wood said.

In other action, the commission climbed aboard the bandwagon being started by Citizens for the Preservation of Open Space, a group of Guilford County residents who want county government to get more active in setting aside undeveloped land for parks, trails, stream buffers, wildlife habitat and other uses.

Two members of the group, Maxine Dalton and Kathy Treanor, said it plans to submit a formal proposal to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners early next year. The group is seeking support from a variety of public boards and civic groups before it submits the proposal, Treanor and Dalton said.

The meeting was Green's first as chairman. He took the place of former commission member and chairman Doug Copeland, whose term expired last month.

Two new commission members, Cheryl Collins and Remus Turner, also have joined the board.

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