By: Eva Ellenburg
Almost eight weeks into his new position as executive director, Rob Overman already has plans to progress the principal ideal of community engagement upon which Greensboro Downtown Parks Incorporated is built.
Following its model of local engagement, GDPI hired Overman, a lifelong Greensboro resident, on April 25 to lead the public-private nonprofit’s management of LeBauer and Center City Park in downtown Greensboro.
“We did a national search to find an executive director for the parks and had, I think, over 60 applicants and we were really just pleased to find Rob really in our backyard,” GDPI chairwoman Cecelia Thompson said. “He’s a downtown resident, his partner is a downtown business owner, and he has a really vast experience from living and working in the national parks out west.”
Overman said he thinks being a Greensboro native will serve in his favor.
“I think for me, one of the things I’ll benefit from is being from this area—kind of knowing the pulse of Greensboro, understanding its residents, understanding what works in Greensboro and what doesn’t necessarily work,” Overman said.
However, his experience in the western part of the country gave him some ideas he wants to apply to Greensboro’s parks. Denver, Colorado, his former place of residence, had an open space policy around the city that increased residents’ outdoor access.
“Seeing the impact that had on the Denver community—this access to outdoor spaces, this access to health and recreation—that’s something that I would like to see more of in Greensboro and LeBauer Park and Center City Park,” Overman said. “It’s a great opportunity to do that—getting people outside, engaging people in exercise.”
Wade Walcutt, director of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department, said Overman knows when to get involved and when to zoom out to see the bigger picture.
“He’s good at being a helicopter pilot because he has the ability, if there is a problem, to fly down closer to the problem, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and help fix the problem,” Walcutt said. “But he also knows that you can’t fly at that low altitude for too long because we need him to have a broader global perspective.”
Overman said he doesn’t plan on making major changes to GDPI’s financial model. The city, which owns LeBauer and Center City, provides $350,000, while GDPI funds the rest of the annual $1.2 million operational costs through sponsorships, private donations, naming rights and the leases of restaurant kiosk in the parks.
GDPI has hosted over 500 free programs in LeBauer and Center City Parks since July 2016. Overman said the continuation of this public free programming is a priority because it’s inclusive of all Greensboro residents.
“My number one goal is going to be to maintain that park vitality, to make sure the programs we’re offering are relevant and that they’re having an impact on the community, to ensure that we continue to run special events like live music and things that engage all members of our community,” Overman said.
Fitness classes, children’s activities, live music and movie nights will continue to be held in the parks, but Overman is adding trivia nights, a Father’s Day campout and a summer concert series called LeBauer Live to the long list of GDPI-hosted programs.
Thompson said the programming is central to GDPI’s core value of community building and improvement, so there will be plenty of free events this upcoming summer.
“The free programming is a tremendous advantage to our community,” Thompson said. “If you think about the value of taking a family to the movies on a Friday night—it’s not a cheap endeavor to do, and so we’re providing 16 or 17 free movies this summer.”
Overman’s vision also includes incorporating seniors into the parks’ volunteer opportunities and programs, increasing children’s educational programs and continuing GDPI’s emphasis on the arts through live music and public art installation.
Maintaining and increasing the diversity of park visitors is important to GDPI in its management of LeBauer and Center City Parks.
“Something we take a lot of pride in is really at any day you can walk through the park and see all people from race and religion and all walks of life really enjoying themselves together,” Thompson said.
Overman said he plans on measuring demographics in the parks, which could further GDPI’s mission of diversity. However, he said the best ways to get ideas for such plans is through interacting with Greensboro residents.
“I can sit in this office all day and brainstorm and come up with programs and ideas and different things to do, but it’s really about talking to the people in your community and finding out what is it that they want to see and what does that look like for them,” Overman said.