Sunday, July 14, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Sesquicentennial Park should be fixed, not eliminated


In some large corporations, various CEOs have said that one of the most important functions of having good staff is to help the head honcho to weed out the bad ideas from the good ones that give rise to great, company-changing policies.

Graham’s mayor Jennifer Talley is not in charge of a large company, but as the head of Graham city government, she’s in the same position as the quintessential CEO.

We readily acknowledge, even if her critics might not, that she’s often been creative and innovative in her pursuit of the city’s best interest and the search for alternatives for staid, big-government solutions.

But every now and then, she goes way off track, and this week she hatched a real dud: the idea of demolishing the Sesquicentennial Park on Court Square.

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This park was built in 1999 as the culmination of a yearlong celebration of the county’s 150th anniversary (Alamance County having been founded in 1849), as well as an advance tribute to the city’s celebration of its 150th anniversary two years later (having been founded in 1851).

There were fundraising events throughout the year as citizens spent over $42,000 to buy bricks (420 of them at $100 each) to provide the pavers for the park.

A steel company donated the structure for the gazebo-like structure at the center of the park (at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars), and other companies donated money (thousands and thousands more) for the project, which was a joint effort between the county government and the city of Graham.

Yet, somehow, Tally has it in her mind that this corner should be restored to the glory days of the last century, by re-establishing a building that once dominated the corner and, in the process, demolishing the park.

Talley claimed over and over again during this week’s city council meeting that she knows of no basis for assuming that the park was to be permanent.

On the contrary, there is absolutely no basis for her revisionist view that the park was meant to be fleeting.

We’re sure that a lot of the people who put up the money 25 years ago are no longer around.  But it would be a travesty, in our judgment, to betray the trust these people put in both the city and county governments back then to establish a nice tribute to the history of Alamance County and its county seat.

Eliminating the park that citizens invested in would surely be the epitome of a government (in this case, a local government) that breaks faith with the people.

And the notion that city officials wouldn’t be able to “find” enough money in Graham’s city budget to fix the park among the tens of thousands in excess funds they have – and oftentimes waste on a regular basis – is especially ludicrous.

But Talley’s idea is also nonsensical – really quite absurd – in practice.

Graham’s turn-of-the-century downtown business district did not originally have the volume of cars that the modern-day city has.

The idea of squeezing a three-story building on this tiny lot – with whatever combination of residential or commercial tenants her nostalgia envisions – is preposterous. (To say nothing of ignoring the “setbacks” that are now required for almost all construction.)

Where, pray tell, would people coming to the new edifice be able to park?  Court Square, North and South Main Street, and even East and West Elm Street, are bustling with vehicles.

It’s already hard enough to find adequate parking – before adding potentially a half dozen or more apartments, offices, or other businesses to Graham’s downtown business district.

Downtown Graham is booming, which is a good thing.  But the idea of destroying a perfectly nice little park – what many jurisdictions term a “pocket park” – and especially one that local residents invested their hard-earned dollars in just to recapture some imaginary nostalgia of mayor Talley’s is very much misplaced.

We also would certainly want the mayor to pledge that this whole exercise is not some charade disguising her own personal or financial interest in buying the property and throwing up some new downtown building.

Her reverence for the memory of the downtown Graham Soda Shop that used to occupy the park site is readily apparent by the business with that same name that she owns and operates on another downtown corner now.

We certainly hope she’s not conjuring up the idea of reestablishing that restaurant at its old location.

Mayor Talley and her husband Chuck own a great many downtown office buildings and businesses already – and to their credit, much of Graham’s revitalization over the past several decades is due in no small measure to their foresight and investment – and, in many cases, sweat equity.

We find it highly suspicious though  that this item appeared out of nowhere on the council’s agenda, but that most council members already seemed to have preconceived notions supporting the mayor’s idea.

It suggests to us – as have similar goings-on in other jurisdictions – that there’s been a lot of back channel discussion about the idea before the first words were spoken publicly about it.

It cannot be overlooked that two of the council’s other members (Bonnie Whitaker and Bobby Chin), who expressed the earliest and strongest support for razing the park, didn’t live here 25 years ago when the park was built.

How they’ve developed a fondness for an even older building that hasn’t been around  for more than 35/40 years is especially puzzling – as is why they would be so ready, even eager, to jettison the Sesquicentennial Park.

Commendations to Ricky Hall, the mayor pro tem, who was the only councilman whose initial reaction was not to fall in behind the mayor’s inclination to demolish the park, but rather to fix it.

All in all, the discussion at Tuesday night’s city council meeting on this topic was beyond disappointing.

It makes us wonder, yet again, when or whether politicians can be trusted, whether governments can be relied on to keep their collective word to the public, and whether in this case, some of Graham’s city council members are simply lemmings following their mayor’s latest ill-conceived idea.

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