Science, History and Nature Working to Put Greensboro on the Map
This past weekend, we saw the ACC Tournament played in, of all places, Brooklyn, New York and heard a surly coach take a pot shot at Greensboro. In the last year, we’ve seen the controversial HB 2 bathroom bill push some performers and events to destinations other than the Gate City.
Wouldn’t it be great if people had a reason to come visit the city that wasn’t at the mercy of outside forces and political squabbles?
It is in the works and when it gets finished, it’s going to be big.
You may or may not have heard of the Battleground Parks District, but you certainly know its component parts if you are at all familiar with Greensboro. Comprised of the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, the Greensboro Science Center, Country Park and the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway, the Battleground Parks District is an effort to have the four entities integrate to create one big presence.
Glenn Dobrogosz, of the Battleground Parks District and CEO of the Greensboro Science Center, explained the features have shared common borders but had developed in the past independently. In recent years, though, the leaderships of the four areas have begun working together to connect their parks, not just for promotion purposes, but to build features and attractions that bring visitors to all of them.
“It’s going to be a multi-phase project” Dobrogosz said, “and right now we are waiting to see how the city will appropriate the money from the 2016 Parks and Recreation Bond.”
From that $34.5 million bond, the Battleground Parks District has $5 million earmarked for its use.
“That $5 million is going to be used to do a connective feature between the Battleground, the Science Center and Country Park to really bring it all together,” he said. “This will make the Battleground Park District much more cohesive and bring it together into one whole story.”
Part of that connective feature is underway as we speak. The Rotary Club of Greensboro is financing the construction of a classic carousel which will be a major attraction, Dobrogosz said. About two thirds of the $1.4 million cost of the carousel have already been raised and many of the animal sculptures in the carousel have been picked out, with a few remaining to be used as fund raisers and to feature local icons.
“The carousel company was here last week getting ready for the carousel, the building it will be in and the plaza around it,” he continued. “Once we get the money appropriated from the bond, we can look at getting the area landscaped and getting that part underway as well.
“Samet Construction is going to be leading the carousel project to bring it to fruition, including building the shelter and the plaza,” Dobrogosz said. “A year from now it should all be in place.”
“We want to create a 400-acre oasis of history, science and wholesome family fun here,” he continued. “We already have so many features here with so many people coming each day. Right now these parks all have about 1 million visitors each year.”
“Greensboro needs to diversify our approach to tourism,” he said “From a political and business standpoint we have undersold ourselves for too long.”
While the carousel project and the plaza surrounding it sound like a good start, it really is just the tip of the iceberg. Other upgrades to the area include updating the buildings and facilities at Country Park to make the most of their appeal and to better highlight some of the more scenic features of the park. Parking in the area and tram access will be addressed as well to better accommodate the increased local attendance the area has seen in recent years.
And then there is the Greensboro Science Center itself. What had once been a small educational center wholly dependent on the city for operating budget has now grown into a respected education and recreation destination. And it is looking to boom in the next year.
This coming week, the Greensboro Science Center will be opening the Wiseman Aquarium, the second phase of its very popular aquarium addition. The new section will concentrate more heavily on fish, including 17 new massive tanks. This expansion, Dobrogosz said, was funded 100 percent by private donations.
Beyond that, this fall, the Greensboro Science Center will be unveiling a brand-new dinosaur exhibit that is guaranteed to thrill the young and old alike. Just past that, they will also be doing their largest zoo expansion to date, with the addition of the new Revolution Ridge portion of the zoo, bringing in more animals and educational opportunities. These two projects will be funded half and half through private donations and bond money.
Dobrogosz explained that all this expansion was possible not just because of the generosity of local private donations, but also taking a very measured approach to growing the Center both physically and in the eyes of the community. Much of the funding for these projects won’t be coming from the current bond under discussion, but from about $9 million in funding from a previous bond that had been held onto to develop just the right projects.
Just a few years ago, the Greensboro Science Center (which is a non-profit entity) had an operating budget of $1.6 million, of which $1 million came directly from the City of Greensboro coffers each year. In recent years, since Dobrogosz took over, the budget has grown along with the size of the facility, now topping out at about $6.4 million per year. However, revenues generated by the establishment, plus private donations, mean that the cost to the city haven’t changed and are still only $1 million per year.
When it comes to economic impact and return on investment, those are good numbers, and something we may continue to expect from the coming growth in the overall Battleground Park District.