Downtown mini-park taking shape

By Tom Joyce

June 17, 2014

At this time last year, it looked as if a downtown mini-park might never reach fruition. But much discussion and many months later, the facility finally is taking shape.

After a groundbreaking ceremony in May and some preliminary demolition work by city crews, a carpentry team descended on the site at the corner of North Main and West Oak streets. It has erected the framework to a point that passersby can now get an idea of how the final product will look.

“Well, I think it’s moving along very well and I think it’s going to kind of change the looks of that part of downtown, and I think it will be much for the better,” said Dean Brown, a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.

The board allocated $70,000 last year toward the mini-park’s construction, which later was boosted by a $45,000 donation from Perry Robertson, a retired local businessman.

But lining up the money for the project was only part of the battle. After plans emerged in October 2012 for a small parcel of land at the corner to be donated to the municipality for the mini-park, officials spent all of 2013 trying to make it a reality.

This included settling on a design for the facility out of numerous choices presented, each containing different elements that cluttered up the blueprints. And as various items were added, especially a gazebo with a price tag of at least $60,000 for that facet alone, city leaders struggled to keep down the overall cost that seemed to escalate with each new concept.

As the delays stretched into months, the public grew restless over the apparent indecisiveness.

“I just think everybody had their own ideas,” Brown explained Monday, “and everybody wanted their ideas to be aired, and I think we took our time to do that — so everybody had a part in it (the design).

In February, the board awarded the construction contract to Smith-Rowe, LLC, at a negotiated price of about $105,000. This was facilitated by the contribution that put the funding over the top from Robertson, a local resident now in his 80s, who did so in honor of a friend from his teen years who died in World War II.

The mini-park will contain such amenities as benches, landscaping, stamped concrete walkways, refaced walls along Main and Oak streets and perhaps its most-striking feature, the gazebo patterned after the Blue Ridge Hotel that once sat on the same corner. This includes a turret on the gazebo that resembles one at the corner of the hotel.

That is what prompted the donation from Robertson, who had many fond memories of living part-time at the hotel with his friend, Carlos Warren Jones, in their younger days while both worked downtown.

“It gives our downtown sort of a historical image,” said Brown, an author of books on local history.

Personnel with Colt W. Simmons Construction Co., a subcontractor for the mini-park which has been doing the early carpentry work for the park in recent days, say it’s not a typical project.

“It’s a little something different,” Robbie Galyean said while working at the site Friday along with Samuel Simmons and Andrew Singleton. “It’s a little harder, because you’re cutting circles out of square boards” to achieve the rounded shapes incorporated into the design.

Brown believes that when the mini-park is completed later this year, it be will a visual enhancement in the downtown area and provide a respite for shoppers.

“I just think it’s great and I think the public will like it, too, when they’re able to sit under it on a day like today,” Brown added Monday, when temperatures reached the upper 80s.

“I’m just proud of it,” he said.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.