When Carolyn LeBauer gifted LeBauer Park to Greensboro, a lot of questions came up. How will the park be managed? How will it be staffed?
“We certainly didn’t want to turn down an opportunity like that,” said Director of Greensboro Parks and Recreation, Wade Walcutt. “We looked at research around the country and actually found some really good models.”
Greensboro Downtown Parks Incorporated was created as a public-private nonprofit to manage Greensboro’s LeBauer and City Center parks.
“We had a great opportunity to merge these parks and have one management,” said Cecelia Thompson, chairperson of GDPI and executive director of Action Greensboro. “So the Action Greensboro organization I work for was made for maintaining Center City Park but along with a lot of other products.
“We’re not experts, but we’ve been making it happen for 10 years. We could be doing so much more with Center City Park and so that gave us an opportunity to go ahead and give Center City Park to the City of Greensboro just like LeBauer will be publicly owned and privately managed.”
While the nonprofit is in its first year, the staff is still figuring out the annual cost for managing the parks. The current estimate is around a million dollars a year.
Park revenue will come from the City of Greensboro, event space rentals, food trucks and park restaurants.
“Center City was a privately owned park for a long time,” said Walcutt. “Transfer that to city owned, and the city owns LeBauer Park too. The city is still contributing the same dollar amount they were years ago. The way I explain it to a lot of folks is the city has provided $350,000 for one park, now the city is the owner of two parks at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
“We figured out this partnership to make it work. It’s a pretty good deal for the community, it’s a good deal for the city, it’s a good deal for everybody not paying an extra dollar more to make these happen.”
The nonprofit not only benefits the taxpayers, but city development. Developers have told Thompson that they would not have bought their buildings and turned it into condos if the front yard wasn’t Center City Park.
“We really think about that impact,” Thompson said. “You’re looking at a cultural district that’s going to spur a ton of additional private development in that area. The benefits are going to be ongoing and ripple effective.”
New jobs and more visits to Greensboro are also an advantage.
“Just even for the kiosks in the park itself, we probably have about 50 new employees for the restaurants and through the park that are new jobs that weren’t there before,” said Denise Caruso, executive director of GDPI. “We’re seeing close to 15,000 people come through the park each month.”
“They are probably shopping at downtown businesses,” Thompson added.
The GDPI board is planning a winter festival for the parks. With the many events and rapid growth, Thompson believes the monthly visits of 15,000 people will likely increase.
“There’s art classes, fitness classes, kids are more active because they are playing in the play space,” said Caruso. “So it’s just giving the community another place to hang out and explore.”
A core value GDPI plans to strive for is to be inclusive.
“It’s just really cool to be there and with what’s happening nationally in our country where there’s tension, and you have a group of kids playing that look like everybody represented in the city is coming together,” said Thompson.
“It’s really refreshing to see that. That’s a core value of the organization, to make sure the variety of events are going to attract different kinds of people in the park and it’s something everybody can find joy in and have a good time there.”
The board is also keeping a close eye on the park’s demographics. They plan to track what segments of the population go to the park to better serve them. Caruso mentioned they’re going to add senior programming since a lot of seniors have been coming to the parks.
GDPI wants to maintain the excitement that there has surrounded the parks. For them, the excitement has been personally rewarding.
“There were a lot of surreal moments after the park opened,” said Walcutt. “When I walked down there with my kids or just down there with my hat on, you hear people say these things like ‘Wow, this is so great’ or ‘Oh, look what they did over here’ and Greensboro really needed this”