The International Civil Rights Center and Museum at 134 S. Elm St. downtown Greensboro has huge plans – to receive an exclusive landmark World Heritage Site designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said this week that those plans are going well and that a UNESCO team is getting ready to come in, evaluate the museum’s progress, and help the plan’s advocates determine what needs to be done to meet that goal.

With $2 million from the City of Greensboro and $2 million from Guilford County government, along with private donations, the museum has already taken huge steps toward the goal.

The honor has only been awarded to 25 sites in the US, including Grand Canyon National Park, the Statue of Liberty and Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Alston said this week that he and other museum supporters are going to do whatever it takes to make the dream become a reality, and he added that, once the museum gets the world-renowned designation, it will be an absolutely huge win for the city of Greensboro and Guilford County.

He said the economic benefit from all the tourists visiting the site will be an economic boom for the area.

“A lot of people have UNESCO sites on their bucket list to visit,” Alston said, adding that some people even make it a goal to see every one of those sites – such as Yosemite National Park and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

He also said the tourism dollars would pay for the cost of the project many times over for years to come. He added that visitors wouldn’t just come from the US but from around the world.

According to Alston, the designation would also make the city more attractive when it comes to major economic development efforts.

Alston, a co-founder of the museum established in the famed Woolworth’s building in downtown Greensboro, said that a lot of progress in the effort had already been made. For instance, the museum bought the former First Citizen’s Bank building next door and the rest of the block.

He said UNESCO wants to know that its sites are in a proper environment and that the World Heritage program requires that its designated sites have “adequate protection” of the surrounding area, so that, for instance, some seedy business doesn’t open up next door to a designated landmark site.

The project is also seeking millions of dollars from the State of North Carolina since the state will be a big beneficiary as well, Alston said.

World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO after a rigorous application and approval process for sites denoted as having cultural, historical or scientific significance as well as meeting many other requirements.

“The next step in the process is for a group from UNESCO to come in and evaluate the progress,” Alston said.

He said the UNESCO team, which may come in next month, will offer suggestions and the museum will do whatever is needed to meet the requirements.

The project now underway to make the International Civil Rights Center and Museum into an internationally recognized World Heritage Site has support from several important backers, including the Georgia State University World Heritage Initiative that’s working hard toward the nomination of historically important civil rights sites in the US.

It’s not known how much the project will cost but estimates in 2022, before the bank building next door was purchased, ran north of $20 million – including the purchase of the block, establishing exhibits in a new building, and making other changes needed before the civil rights museum can be awarded the coveted designation.

A letter from the Georgia State University World Heritage 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.”