Here’s some unsolicited advice: if you haven’t been to LeBauer Park in downtown Greensboro, tuck this newspaper under your arm, go to the park and finish reading it once you get there. You won’t regret it.
The Carolyn and Maurice LeBauer City Park, which opened on Monday, is across Davie Street from Center City Park. It backs up to the Greensboro Central Library on Church Street and is next door to the Greensboro Historical Museum to the north and the Cultural Arts Center and Cafe Europa on the south.
When you arrive (with your paper), you have a decision to make – where to sit and read it. You also have to decide if you want to get something to eat or drink from Ghassan’s or Noma Food & Co., the two Greensboro restaurants who have permanent facilities in the park, or maybe from a food truck. If it’s afternoon, you can even have a beer or glass of wine (actually a can of wine) to go along with your paper.
Wherever you enter the park, you can see the Janet Echelman sculpture that is hanging over the main lawn and performance area. It looks like a big colorful fishing net hanging over the lawn, but I’m sure art critics won’t like that description and would talk about the flowing shapes and shifting colors, or something like that. But your can’t miss it.
The park has a great feel.
I can’t count the number of ground breakings, grand openings and ribbon cuttings I have attended where the speakers used superlatives like “game changer,” “greatest,” “biggest,” “best-est,” “unique,” “one of kind” or something like that. They are almost always exaggerating. It is in fact just another school, library, office building, road or park.
In this case, at the LeBauer Park ribbon cutting on Monday, August 8, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan echoed my sentiments when she said, “All I can say is, Wow.”
LeBauer Park deserves a “Wow.”
Greensboro Parks and Recreation Director Wade Walcutt called it, “The best park in the country.” And this time I’m not inclined to disagree.
It is an incredible piece of work. The children’s playground is not like any playground I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen most of the elements other places but I haven’t seen them all put together. Lots of different things to climb. Mounds and big balls that kids can climb on and jump from one to another. Slides. A very modern looking merry-go-round.
But perhaps this is the best recommendation. When I was walking around, one young child suddenly started screaming. I thought, “Oh no, opening day and the first accident.”
But there was no accident. The child’s mother had just told him it was time to go.
Even the LeBauer Park sign at the edge of the main lawn is striking. Concrete letters two feet high or so and great for sitting on for a moment, or for kids to climb on. It’s the kind of touch that is going to make the park the place to go in Greensboro.
Like the kids who ran into the playground area climbing, jumping and sliding on everything, nobody had to explain to the dogs how the dog park worked.
And because the park is built primarily for people who aren’t dogs or young children, there are places to stand out of the way or sit at a small table and watch.
In fact, one of the great things about the park in my opinion is that there is such a wide variety of places to sit and do whatever you want. You can sit and watch the kids in the park, or the dogs, or the people walking past, but there are also plenty of quiet places to sit and read or just enjoy the space.
The designers packed an unbelievable number of different venues into this four-acre park.
The grand opening was, of course, packed with people. But, as I’ve said, I’ve been to more of these things then I can count and usually one of the challenges is to get photos of people before the ribbon is cut and everyone disappears. After this grand opening people lingered and lingered, which is exactly what you want people to do in a park. If it hadn’t started to rain, some people may not have made it back to work.
I went back to LeBauer Park Monday evening and found a bunch of folks who had been at the grand opening and done the same thing I had done. Gone back to finish the workday and then returned to the park, along with a lot of folks who were experiencing the park for the first time. Then I went back on Tuesday and there were even more children in the play area than there had been on opening day, more dogs and more people eating and drinking.
The late Carolyn LeBauer left $10 million from her estate for the park, and that gave the designers a lot of leeway. It, for instance, allowed them to plant good sized trees in the park so that even though it is brand new, it doesn’t look brand new because the trees look like they have been there for a while. Of course, as the trees grow, the park will get better in the eyes of those of us who love trees.
Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro President Walker Sanders explained, that in creating the park, what they started with was the programming for the park, which is backwards from the way most parks are designed. Most parks are designed first and then they come back and figure out what they can do with it. But for LeBauer Park they decided what they wanted the park to be first and then designed it with all those activities in mind.
And the designers, contractors and everyone involved has to be congratulated on getting the park ready for opening day. For those of you who have been out of town all summer, we’ve had a lot of heavy rainstorms in recent weeks, so it’s incredible that they got the park opened on August 8.
Having said that, there is one feature that wasn’t ready on opening day and that is the fountain.
Center City Park across the street is known for its beautiful fountains, but, if you’ve spent any time in Center City Park, you know the park management has a constant struggle to keep kids out of their fountains. But the fountains at LeBauer Park are designed for kids to play in.
The play area seems extremely popular with the young set, but soon they will be able to run around in the fountain as well. It makes me think they had a 5-year-old consultant on the team who said, “Hey, you know what would be really cool?”
I heard one comment, which was meant as a huge complement: One woman said, “I don’t feel like I’m in Greensboro.” The Chamber of Commerce may not want to use that as a slogan, but there is a lot of truth in it. I mean this in a good way – the park seems too nice for Greensboro.
The name of the sculpture is “Where we met.” Which I think over time will become entirely appropriate.
For those who require a little more entertainment, on Saturday beginning at 4:30 p.m., the Price/Bryan Performance Place will have its inaugural show with music until 10 p.m. So people can plop down on the lawn under “Where We Met,” have something to eat and drink from Ghassan’s and Noma and enjoy music all afternoon.
I don’t know if a park can transform a downtown, but if it can, this one will.