GREENSBORO — North Murrow Boulevard at East Gate City Boulevard has become a construction zone, with heavy equipment moving earth and reconfiguring roads.
They literally lay the groundwork for the fourth and final cornerstone along a new section of the Downtown Greenway.
Expected to be ready in fall 2020, the latest major public art installation will join other artistry and landscaping along the 4-mile recreational path around center city.
The cornerstone will carry the theme of Freedom. It was inspired by the city’s role in the civil rights movement, especially the non-violent protests of the pivotal 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins.
Greenway planners have put out a call for artists in the U.S. to submit design proposals by Aug. 21. The winning artist will be chosen in November.
Planners will give preference to artists experienced in telling stories of African American history and culture through their public art.
Planners don’t have preconceived notions about the cornerstone’s design, said Dabney Sanders, the greenway’s project manager with Action Greensboro.
“We want this piece to be of visual significance to both pedestrians and cyclists who are on the greenway, but also to cars passing by,” Sanders said as she looks over the site from the Gorrell Street bridge.
She points to the nearby Magnolia House on Gorrell Street, a hotel for African Americans during the segregation era. A stairway will connect Gorrell and Plott streets with the greenway below.
“The history behind the Magnolia house has a very strong relationship with what we’re doing here,” Sanders said.
Action Greensboro, an arm of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, has joined forces with the city to create the greenway.
They aim to finish the $40 million project, financed with public and private money, by late 2020.
So far, 1.5 miles are complete, and more than 15 public artworks have been installed.
They include cornerstones of large public art at three of the four corners.
Closest to the Freedom cornerstone is Woven Works Park at Murrow Boulevard and Lindsay Street. Opened in 2016 with a theme of Innovation, it displays playful, interactive sculptural features — one 48 feet tall — inspired by the city’s textile history.
Farther down Gate City Boulevard stands the motion-themed metal sculpture titled “Gateway of the Open Book,” which opened in 2012.
At West Smith and Prescott streets, the Meeting Place cornerstone that opened in 2014 signifies tradition.
The Freedom cornerstone will be at one end of another 1.5-mile section now under construction. It follows Murrow Boulevard, which turns into Fisher Avenue, to the intersection with Greene Street. Another section is open there.
An art-selection panel will review artist applications, assisted by a new focus group, Sanders said.
They will choose up to three artists to create preliminary concepts to present in October.
The winning artist will be chosen in November, then visit to seek public input and make his or her final proposal in January.
The artist must design a comprehensive plan for the cornerstone site, including landscaping, benches, trash receptacles, drinking fountain and an artist-designed bicycle rack.
Those site furnishings will be financed separately from the artist’s budget of $350,000 — $200,000 for the artwork and $150,000 for site costs and landscaping.
The cornerstone will be fabricated over summer 2020, then installed in September and October 2020.
Right now, a mound of dirt covers much of the half-acre Freedom cornerstone site. Construction crews will replace the existing road that takes traffic from Gate City Boulevard onto Murrow Boulevard. That lane will become part of the cornerstone.
“It’s a little hard to visualize,” Sanders said.
Murrow and Gate City boulevards will be reconfigured into a T intersection.
The result: a safer intersection, Sanders said. Pedestrians and bicyclists can cross Gate City Boulevard and continue on the greenway to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Bragg Street.
Combined with reducing lanes on Murrow Boulevard, the greenway also should reduce the appearance of separation between the city’s eastern section and downtown, Sanders said.
“We have a six-lane divided highway here that is completely inappropriate for a downtown environment,” she said.
The greenway has been a long and complex project.
A decade ago, organizers broke ground on the first section. Five Points is located in the loop’s southwest corner near Gate City Boulevard and the Freeman Mill Road exit ramp.
“It’s easy for us to look at the end of 2020, when we complete the whole thing, as the end of the project,” Sanders said. “But it’s actually just the beginning.”
The last year has brought more programming of activities on the greenway, Sanders said. “We’re going to continue to work on strengthening that programming so that, when it is all open, we’ll be in a really good position for the community to be able to fully embrace it.”