April 15, 2011
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A barren area uptown eventually could become a thriving leisure spot.
Numerous possibilities exist for turning the grassy hill behind the former Henry County courthouse — called the North Lawn — into a place where people can go to relax or take part in social activities, according to officials involved in the central business district’s revitalization.
With public input, “we can come up with something people can take pride in” and want to visit, Phoenix Community Development Corp. Executive Director Ray Gibbs said during a planning workshop Thursday night at the Blue Ridge Regional Library in Martinsville.
Phoenix and the city hosted the meeting in partnership with the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society, which owns the courthouse property.
Gibbs showed slides of scenes from cities from around the world featuring almost 60 options for developing the lawn, including recreational areas, seating areas, statues and water bodies.
Despite the many possibilities, there is less than a half-acre behind the old courthouse, so the land cannot accommodate some things, he said.
One possibility that Gibbs mentioned is developing a small passive park with trees, shrubs, benches and sidewalks where people could walk or sit and rest. The land also could be developed as a “public lawn” for people to gather for public assemblies, music performances or group recreation, he said.
Another option he mentioned is turning the land into a gathering place with tables, chairs and maybe games such as checkerboards.
Water would add an element of interest and encourage people to relax, Gibbs said.
Possibilities for integrating water into the lawn include fountains, as well as sprays and jets through which children could run, his slides showed.
Sculptures and other works of art are possible additions, plus structures such as trellises where people could escape from direct sunlight and kiosks where they could buy food and beverages or use restrooms.
Those attending Thursday night’s public meeting ranked the options based on their preferences and submitted the information on anonymous forms.
But only a few people were there — Gibbs and several city staff members, plus Jim Tobin, executive director of Piedmont Community Services, and Jim Woods, manager of the Blue Ridge Library in Martinsville.
Organizers said they hope more people attend similar meetings scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the county administration building on Kings Mountain Road and 6 p.m. next Thursday at the library on East Church Street.
“You almost can’t do this (develop the North Lawn) without thinking of the front of the courthouse at the same time,” said Tobin, whose organization is based uptown. “It’s all one flow” of development.
Gibbs speculated that the area in front of the courthouse will be developed in a more formal manner because “it’s the closest thing we have to a town square” for ceremonial gatherings and events.
The Harvest Foundation has contributed about $30,000 toward preparing conceptual plans for the North Lawn’s development, officials said.
Gibbs added that he hopes those plans can be developed by the fall, based on public input.
Because it is the property owner, the historical society ultimately will have to approve how the lawn is developed, he said.
After conceptual plans are done, Harvest and other grant providers will be approached for money to develop construction plans and start construction, officials said.
“We’ll go to every conceivable source we can think of” to try to get funds, said Wayne Knox, the city’s director of community development.
Funds also will have to be found to maintain the lawn after it is developed, Gibbs said.
“If we can’t maintain it, we don’t need to” develop it, he said, because “it would start to look bad pretty quickly” without regular maintenance.
One maintenance option, he noted, is the historical society contracting with a private entity to manage the lawn.
That has become common in localities nationwide, Gibbs said. He mentioned that although Central Park in New York City is owned by the city, it is managed by a private, nonprofit organization.
Knox said Martinsville officials eventually want to schedule a public meeting to hear input on how the Dana O. Baldwin Block between Fayette, Market, Moss and East Church streets uptown should be developed.
Anyone interested in taking part in those meetings can call Knox at 403-5169 or City Planner Susan McCulloch at 403-5156.
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