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The New Marshall Park

by Dennis Marsoun

April 4,2005

Recently, the County Commission voted 8 – 1, with Parks Helms voting against, for the elimination of a baseball component in Third Ward. Instead, the land will be used for a “New Marshall Park.” You know the site, situated between Trade Street and Bank of America Stadium, the railroad tracks and Poplar Street. It is currently an inland sea of surface parking lots.

It is an interesting history how the county ended up with the 8.5 acres in the first place. When the original push was on to build George Shinn a new arena in the Uptown area, that land was owned by First Union. The county saw the land as the perfect place for the arena and purchased the land. The city and county then bundled the arena with other arts initiatives and sought approval in a referendum.

Well, the referendum, to a large extent a representation of how the region felt about George Shinn, failed. Then, when BofA, Wachovia, and Duke Power provided the leadership, and a big chunk of money, Plan B was quickly put in place. Suddenly, the site for the arena changed from Third Ward to First Ward. The arena is quickly nearing completion, and a host of activity is springing up around it.

Many people think that Lynn Wheeler lost her bid for reelection because of the arena issue, and the fact that many voters felt that their government, and Lynn in particular, was not listening to them. It is interesting that she chose not to spend much in the primaries and she was the only person who lost.

But what of the Third Ward site, and the land that is now owned by the county? Wilhelmenia Rembert represented the majority of the county commissioners when she said, “We promised them a park and we will give them a park.”

I am confused. Who did she promise a park to, and when was this promise made? Was it before the county purchased the land from First Union or after the city chose to put the park in First Ward? Where was the outcry for a park?

Is there over crowding at Frazier Park, located within easy walking distance of most of the existing residences of Third Ward? For those of you who are not familiar with Frazier Park, it is located at the west end of Third Ward next to I-77. In addition to a greenway, it contains athletic fields and plenty of room for people to relax. In fact, the Charlotte Jazz Festival moved there from Independence Park last year.

The goal of representative government is to reflect the will of the people, and still be able to make tough decisions that may appear wrong in the short term. Is it the need to get reelected or the need to move the people’s business forward that is more important?

The proposed site for the “New Marshall Park” that is under consideration is the least favorable of three possibilities developed by a consulting group, Civitas. In their view, it will take 25 years to fully develop the site. So, our leaders, with the exception of Parks Helms, made this decision while ignoring a highly regarded consultant who recommended other sites.

Leadership should fight for what is right. Concerning the best use for that land, let’s look at who will use it. Will it be the Myers Park or Dilworth community? Probably neither, they have the magnificent Freedom Park. Will it be folks from Ballantyne, or Lake Norman, or Matthews, or Gastonia, or Monroe, or Concord? “Pack up the kids honey, lets go down to the ‘New Marshall Park’ and spend the day.” Probably not, there are plenty of open spaces in all those communities.

Will it be the current Third Ward residents? The “New Marshall Park” will be further from all Third Ward residents than Frazier Park, and they will have to contend with walking around the railroad tracks to get there. Perhaps Johnson & Wales students will use the park. Will Fourth Ward residents use it? Maybe, they are by far the closest to the park.

Leadership and land use! While the rest of the Uptown community is building mixed use development, the county risks keeping its collective head buried deep in the sand of Third Ward.

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