CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After nearly two decades of talk and design, and months of weather delays, Charlotte is opening its new uptown park Friday – the long-awaited tribute to renowned artist and Charlotte-born Romare Bearden.
The unveiling of Romare Bearden Park will be a three-day open house with main ceremonies scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, and concerts, storytelling and children’s activities scheduled Labor Day weekend through Sunday.
The $11 million, 5.4-acre park, built around two grassy ovals, incorporates themes from Bearden’s life and work.
It is near where the artist was born in his great-grandparents’ house at Second (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) and Graham streets. He lived there until he was 4, when his parents moved the family to Harlem in New York.
But Bearden came back often to visit relatives, and years later much of his memories of Charlotte and Mecklenburg found their way into his famous painted collages.
Though smaller, the park for Bearden is Charlotte’s answer to Chicago’s Millennium Park, Denver’s City Park and Boston’s Boston Common.
“Size is dependant on the city,” said Jim Garges, director of Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department. “Ours is smaller than some, bigger than others. But there are things we can do here that are similar to all of them.
“When people hear of Romare Bearden Park, they will think of Charlotte.”
Mecklenburg County first started talking about an urban “Central Park” in 1994 and six years later, the county and city included it as part of a 2010 citywide vision plan, with a park in each of uptown’s four wards.
A year later, the county bought 16 acres in uptown’s Third Ward with the intent to build a major urban park. In 2004, voters approved a $45 million park bond – with $9 million going to the Third Ward park that was simply called “West Park.”
That year, the AAA Charlotte Knights minor league team began to make a pitch for the Third Ward property and pressure was put on county commissioners to make it happen.
Officials decided to downsize the park, move it up to Church Street and provided the land for the Knights to build their ballpark on the park’s original site.
In 2005, calls began to name the park for Bearden.
“This park space in an area like this was very difficult to do,” Garges said. “But it will be a draw. It’s one of the reasons people will come to Mecklenburg County.”