The major project now underway to make the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro into an internationally recognized World Heritage Site has support from two important backers: The Georgia State University World Heritage Initiative that’s working hard toward the nomination of historically important civil rights sites in the US, and Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI) President and CEO Zack Matheny – who’s focused on enhancing the vitality of downtown are both supporting the effort.
The museum in the old Woolworth’s building on South Elm Street in the heart of downtown Greensboro has announced plans for a major initiative to buy the former First Citizen’s building next door along with the large parking lot on the block. The move is meant to expand exhibits and operations as part of an attempt to have the museum designated as a World Heritage Site – a renowned landmark designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Backers of the plan say that the designation would mean a large increase in tourism for Greensboro and Guilford County, and also make the city more attractive when it comes to major economic development efforts.
Last week, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to have county staff work out the details of providing $2 million of county taxpayer money to the project. The museum is now in the process of seeking funds from the City of Greensboro, community foundations, private donors and the State of North Carolina.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said that the land and building purchase would be $10.25 million and said additional costs would likely come to about “$10 million to $15 million” for building renovations and exhibit creation.
Since 2016, the Georgia State University World Heritage Initiative has been “preparing a potential Serial Nomination of U.S. Civil Rights Movement Sites for possible inscription on the World Heritage List.”
The letter from that initiative, signed by the project director and project manager, stated, “We are happy to learn that many public and private entities are supporting this effort financially, as the historic Greensboro Woolworth and its iconic lunch counter is, in our estimation, an internationally significant property that uniquely represents a critically important phase of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Upon review of more than 300 historic sites associated with the Modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the F.W. Woolworth Department Store in Greensboro stands out for its significance.”
The letter of support adds, “World Heritage designation provides the highest level of recognition that a cultural site can receive, for it recognizes and celebrates only those sites that have had a global impact on world history and therefore are of international importance.”
Alston said the World Heritage program requires its sites to have adequate protection of the surrounding area and he added that the parking would be a big benefit as well.
The letter made the same points and concluded, “We strongly support the acquisition of this 2.2-acre property and the positive effect its purchase will have on both the historic Greensboro Woolworth and its International Civil Rights Center and Museum,”
The museum project also got a voice of support from Matheny speaking for DGI. In a memo sent to the county commissioners, Matheny wrote that having the museum be part of World Heritage site “will further the commitment of the Museum as a crown jewel, not only in Greensboro, but the Southeast.”