By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Home to a thriving economy in the early part of the 20th Century, Southeast Greensboro lost many of its African-American businesses as a result of the urban redevelopment strategies of the 1960s.
Now, the region is set to get an 11-acre complex of public gardens that are expected to attract 250,000 visitors a year and, in combination with the new Gateway University Research Park being developed across East Lee Street, help spur the area’s economic revival, organizers say.
“I do sense we are having a tremendous rebirth in Southeast Greensboro,” says Carole Bruce, a partner at law firm Smith Moore who co-chairs an effort to raise $5 million to develop the new Gateway Gardens.
Ralph Shelton, president and CEO of Southeast Fuels and the fundraising drive’s other co-chair, says the new public gardens not only will serve local residents but also will attract visitors from throughout the city and tourists to the area, and generate businesses to serve them.
“It will help revitalize a section of the city that can use a shot in the arm,” he says.
Advised by fundraising consultant David Winslow of The Winslow Group in Winston-Salem, the fundraising effort already has raised $2.7 million in its quiet phase, including $1.5 million from the city and $1.2 million from foundations, corporations and individuals.
With a ceremonial groundbreaking Sept. 29 at the site of the new gardens at East Lee and Florida streets, less than one mile from Business 85/I-40, the public phase of the drive kicked off Oct. 11 at the O.Henry Hotel.
The public gardens, designed by Cline Design Associates in Raleigh, will include a 4,000-square-foot visitor center, a great lawn, walking trails and four themed gardens focusing, respectively, on children, weddings, Greensboro’s heritage and Japanese horticulture, plus a White Oak forest.
The children’s garden, for example, will be designed as a “fun space” for families, says Cathy Cates, executive director of Greensboro Beautiful and director of City Beautiful, a division of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department.
Greensboro Beautiful will develop the gardens, which the city will own and maintain.
The children’s garden will include plant “tunnels,” an “edible” garden, a plant maze, a “frog bog,” a storytelling area featuring a book stage, and an “a through z” theme throughout the garden.
The wedding garden will set up to 600 people and feature a pavilion with a rose garden and arbor, and a great lawn and space for reception tents.
The heritage garden will focus on the themes of human rights and the “path to freedom,” education and culture, and government and industry, and will culminate with a plaza featuring a 35-foot water-sculpture icon designed by Francis Vega of Vega Metals in Durham.
And the Japanese garden will include a strolling garden, teahouse structure, stream bed and Zen garden.
Southeast Greensboro is “a part of the city that many of us work hard to make sure is treated fairly and there is economic opportunity,” says Shelton, who with his wife, Christine, is making a gift to the drive in memory of their daughter, Cassandra, who died last year.