Thursday, April 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Should sinking floor of Sesquicentennial Park be fixed – or the whole thing demolished, replaced by a building?

A seemingly innocuous agenda item on Graham city council’s Tuesday night agenda – whether to move toward repairing the “floor” of the Sesquicentennial Park on Court Square across from the Historic Court House – took on a whole new dimension as Graham’s mayor raised the possibility that, instead, the corner lot should be sold off.

The discussion originated when Graham city manager Megan Garner told the council that the park “has begun sinking in recent years.” She wanted guidance on whether to include money in the next budget to repair the park, which had been constructed in 1999, after fundraising in connection with the county’s sesquicentennial celebration, or to consider what she termed “an alternative use for that property.”

The county celebrated its 150th anniversary (known as a sesquicentennial) in 1999; the city of Graham, in 2001.

Garner asked that the city council consider whether to spend an estimated $50,000 to remove a center structure in order to stop the sinking, repair the base, and re-install the shelter and pavers – or whether to consider offering the property for sale as surplus city property.

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[Story continues below photo of the Sesquicentennial Park.]

Cracks in the planter walls (above and below) are further evidence of the “sinking” that’s happening to the Sesquicentennial Park over the past 25 years.
A pedestal in the center of a gazebo-like structure originally held the bell from the original courthouse, but it has been removed, now back in the custody of the Crissman family who had loaned it to the city for use in the Sesquicentennial Park.
There are 420 bricks with inscriptions in honor or memory of various individuals, groups, or occasions on the floor of the Sesquicentennial Park.


Graham mayor Jennifer Talley suggested that she hoped that, if the property were to be sold, a developer might restore a building similar to the three-story structure that  had originally stood on the site.

Talley also insisted, several times, that the park had been a “beautification project” in connection with the 150th year celebration,  stressing, “But I don’t know that it was to be something permanent.”

The three-story corner building (the structure on the site previously occupied by a two-story built after the city’s founding in 1851) , with a catty-corner entrance across from the courthouse, was built at the turn of the century, in about 1902, and had been a popular hangout in the 1930’s to 1960’s when it was operated as the Graham Soda Shop.

[Story continues below photos of the historic Graham Soda Shop where the Sesquicentennial Park is now located and the current version nearby.]

 The Graham Soda Shop – 1902 until destroyed by fire in 1977 and later razed; and the modern-day version (at bottom)

In modern times, Talley herself has opened and operated a business with the same name, Graham Soda Shop, on another corner of Court Square.

The original Graham Soda Shop building burned in 1977 (the fire is supposed to have started in one of the apartments above the first floor business), but remained standing for about another decade.

Then it was razed and used as a parking lot for another decade or more until reconfigured in the course of the county’s sesquicentennial (150th) celebration in 1999.

Describing the former Soda Shop building as “one of the prettiest buildings in downtown Graham,” Talley said, “I’d love to see something like that go back in that space.”

Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. questioned Talley over whether the city of Graham actually owned the lot on its own, or whether there was some form of joint ownership of it stemming from collaboration with county government for the 150th anniversary celebrations.

City attorney Bob Ward said he had looked at the deed to the property, which he said was unencumbered, but said he would have to investigate further to determine whether there were other stipulations put on the parcel by the county’s commissioners.

Talley insisted that there was “no deed restriction” that would limit the city’s decision to sell the property.

She again repeated, “This was not to go forever, in perpetuity.”

She said, “If I saw there was more use out of it,” she wouldn’t mind, but since there isn’t, she said it should be considered for another purpose.

“The highest and best use in a business district is to have a building there,” Talley said.

For his part, Boney pressed that there was absolutely “no compelling interest” in changing it from the park it had been dedicated to be 25 years ago.  He questioned the “legal and ethical” considerations of going back on people’s expectations that the park was to be a permanent tribute to the county’s founding and history.

Council member Bonnie Whitaker sided with Talley, saying she would like to see something like the former Soda Shop building put back on that lot.

Councilman Joey Parson said he did not want to see “spending a lot” on fixing the floor of the existing park.

Councilman Ricky Hall said he leaned toward fixing the floor of the park.

Councilman Bobby Chin said the city should “explore declaring the property surplus” and offering it for sale.

In the end of the discussion, the council asked their attorneys to explore further whether there were any binding or other obligations the city had entered into with the county at the time the park was constructed that would, in fact, limit the city’s decision to do something else with the property.

Comments from former Sesquicentennial Committee chairman, and what does deed to the property say?

Read the newspaper’s editorial page view on the issue:

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