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Council to consider Town Common project

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This artist's rendering shows the "Walls" concept for for a memorial to be housed on Greenville's Town Common honoring the Sycamore Hill Memorial Baptist Church.

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Two concepts for a $2 million development recalling a church and neighborhood that once stood in the location of Greenville’s Town Common are set for consideration by the Greenville City Council tonight.

Designs for the Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza project were first unveiled during an Aug. 11 public input session. The project was conceived in 2016 to commemorate the history of the former Shore Drive neighborhood and Sycamore Hill Baptist Church. The homes in the neighborhood were razed during an urban renewal project, and the church was demolished after an arson in 1970.

The memorial project was included in the Town Common Master Plan, a phased effort to update park facilities. The contract to implement the plan awarded to Rhodeside and Harwell, which hired the architectural firm Perkins and Will to complete the design work for the gateway project. Perkins and Will designed the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C., Emancipation Park in Houston and similar projects in Charlotte and Raleigh.

About 50 people attended the input session when the firm introduced its two designs, “Walls” and “Gateway.” Twenty-two participants voted on the designs and left comments. Only one voted for Gateway, 17 for Walls, and four voted to combine the concepts. 

“Walls” was inspired by the idea of music and the former layout of the church, said Michael Stevenson, a designer with Perkins and Will.

He said the design team found an old floor plan of the church and tried to create a design reminiscent of that plan. The design mimics the entryway of the church, the central community area where pews once stood and the altar and choir area near the back. Interspersed throughout this design would be walls of varying height and width, on which the story of Sycamore Hill would be presented.

“Gateway” got its inspiration from the sense of sanctuary the church once offered.

Stevenson said the team started this design by looking at the original shape of the church, then created an overhead structure in that likeness. This concept would be more closed off than the other, in hopes of creating a sense of security.

Both designs feature a tower.

The “Walls” concept has a tower in the former location of the original bell tower. The modern recreation, which could feature stained glass, is meant to evoke the sense spirituality and prominence the towers once played, Stevenson said.

The tower in the “Gateway” concept would be located on the corner and serve as an extension of the structure. Both designs also incorporate 22 walls, benches or elements in homage to the 22 original founders of the church, as well as a terrace viewing area that faces the river.

Recreation and Parks Director Gary Fenton said the council will be presented both design concepts, as well as the preference for design one. He said the firm is waiting to receive input from the council before finalizing their design and moving forward. 

"I don’t think there are going to be any momentous changes, but some tweaks based on the feedback so far,” said Fenton. 

Original cost estimates hovered around $2 million — $1.6 million for construction, $260,000 for general contractor and bond fees and a 5 percent contingency fund of $100,000 — though the estimate is expected to change as the design is altered.

The Town Creek Master Plan and the contract with Rhodeside and Harwell also includes a restroom facility for the park. Original estimates for the project were $500,000 but according to a memo sent to the council by Fenton, adjustments to designs have lowered the estimated cost to $300,000. That project is expected to be complete and open to the public in the spring. 

The council also is scheduled to discuss the future of Bradford Creek Public Golf Course at the meeting.

The council voted June 5 to negotiate a contract with Billy Casper Golf Company to take over management of the course from the Recreation and Parks Department. The possibility of hiring a marketing firm instead emerged during a closed session discussion last month.

District 5 Councilman P.J. Connelly, who originally asked the council to consider private management, said Wednesday he suggested during the closed meeting that hiring a marketing firm might be a better idea.

Better marketing could help the course increase business and decrease its cost to the city without relinquishing city control, he said. 

Officials said Thursday’s discussion on the course likely will focus on whether to continue negotiations with the management firm or seek proposals from local marketing firms.

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on twitter @GulledgeSeth.

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