‘It’s heartbreaking’: Charlotte’s Thomas Polk Park demolished

CHARLOTTE — An Uptown fixture for more than 30 years is no longer there. Charlotte officials started the process of demolishing Thomas Polk Park at the corner of Trade and Tryon on Wednesday.

Despite a last-minute push, a fountain by a renowned artist is not being saved.

Constructed in 1991, Thomas Polk Park was highlighted by a fountain built by Bulgarian artist Angela Danadjieva.

Danadjieva is the recipient of numerous national and international awards, including an Honor Award in Design from the American Society of Landscape Architects. Two of her most well-known pieces of work are Keller Fountain Park in Portland, Oregon, and Freeway Park in Seattle. Both are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Cultural Landscape Foundation CEO Charles Birnbaum is distraught that the city and Center City Partners are destroying her work.

“It’s heartbreaking and it’s really tragic,” he said. “I can tell you that policies could have been followed to adaptively reuse this space. A decision was made to tear it down.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation and local architects made a last-minute attempt to save the structure. The city says the decision to demolish it was not made lightly and that the fountain structure and systems have exceeded their useful life.

“Deconstruction is underway. The park, in its current form, limits the space available for public use and engagement. It does not work well with the adjacent buildings around it and poses some public safety challenges,” city spokesperson Lawrence Corley said. “The choice to remove the fountain designed by Angela Danadjieva, a respected landscape architect, was weighed heavily. The cost to rehab the park was too significant and given the challenges previously stated, City Council voted to redevelop it.”

Birnbaum doesn’t buy that. He calls it another example of Charlotte destroying its history. He compared it to the demolition of Penn Station.

“When this kind of destruction and this act of vandalism happens, something’s not right,” he said. “You can’t know where you’re going if you didn’t know where you come from. And this is an act an unfortunate act of erasure.”

Birnbaum says the fountain had the potential to inspire a new generation of female architects.

The city of Charlotte and Center City Partners are partnering on a new park in its place. It will be named after former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl.

McColl is distancing himself from the project and controversy, telling our partners at the Charlotte Business Journal that he is not involved.

Statement from the city of Charlotte:

The City of Charlotte and Charlotte City Center Partners (CCCP) this week began work on the revitalization of an uptown park that soon will become a place for public engagement, celebration and reflection – with input on features and design from the community. In March, the city approved plans to redevelop Polk Park in partnership with a coalition of business and civic leaders, along with CCCP, that will transform the city-owned park into a celebrated public space that welcomes all. The park will be renamed to honor philanthropist and former Bank of America Chairman and CEO Hugh McColl Jr. Located in the heart of Charlotte at Trade and Tryon streets, the 1/3-acre park was built in 1991 and has become obsolete with limited gathering space, poor lighting, outdated landscaping, and a hard-to-maintain fountain. The city is handling deconstruction of the park, which will include preserving and relocating some features, with work expected to be complete in early July. The site will be graded and resurfaced for public use, as design and planning for the new park takes place. Completion is expected by summer of 2025. A project architect will soon be selected and designers will seek public input and ideas from residents, adjacent landowners, business leaders, historic and other interest groups, donors and other stakeholders. The Hugh McColl Park Coalition is raising funds to pay for the rehabilitation of the park, to better reflect the character of adjacent properties and the prominence of the “public square” it occupies. The coalition envisions a functional, flexible and elegantly crafted urban park that celebrates Charlotte’s history and acknowledges McColl’s vision and contributions as a philanthropist and business leader. The Hugh McColl Park Coalition includes Charlotte leaders who worked with McColl on various projects and issues. Among them: Co-Chairs Malcomb Coley, Charlotte managing partner for EY; Cyndee Patterson, former city councilwoman; Kieth Cockrell, president of Bank of America Charlotte; Harvey Gantt, former Charlotte mayor; Michael Marsicano, former president and CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas; Loy McKeithen, former partner at McGuireWoods; Rolfe Neill, former publisher of The Charlotte Observer; and Michael Smith, president and CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners.

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