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Countdown begins for Bell Tower Green Park’s opening to public

SALISBURY — Just a dream in 2015, the city’s central park is six weeks away from opening to the public, says Dyke Messinger, who leads the group developing Bell Tower Green.

Sitting on a city block that previously housed parking lots and a bank, Bell Tower Green Park is an almost entirely privately funded development that will be turned over to city government for management upon completion. It will contain trees, gardens and greenery; walkways; a series of metal trellises that will be covered in greenery, too; a playground; water wall and splash pad; benches; lights; and, of course, the Bell Tower that used to be part of First Presbyterian Church.

The idea has roots in 2015 when the Blanche and Julian Robertson Foundation took an option out on the city block controlled for about 160 years by the Maxwell Chambers Trust. The foundation purchased the block in 2016 to develop it into a park anchored by the Bell Tower and later gifted it to the nonprofit Bell Tower Green of which Messinger is president.

A groundbreaking for the project’s construction occurred in August 2019. The formal reopening will be slightly more than two years later — Sept. 10, which is the day before Pops at the Post. The park informally will open to the public before that — likely mid-August.

“The grand opening day is fixed, but the contractors are going to leave before then,” Messinger said. “We’re trying to coordinate a date (with the contractor) when the fence is down, the park is open.”

Other logistics also will affect the soft opening, including when city government officially takes ownership. That could depend on dates of regularly scheduled City Council meetings, which will be July 20th, Aug. 3rd, Aug. 17th and Sept. 7th.

“I think we can do it in six weeks, maybe sooner if weather cooperates,” Messinger said.

He told a crowd of donors, city officials and other community members Tuesday the park’s final price tag will be about $13 million and that it will have no debt when it opens. Mostly, private donors made the park possible by contributing small and large amounts to its construction. Initially, the park’s creators set out with a goal of $7 million to $8 million.

“But we’re like kids in a candy store, particularly that water wall,” Messinger said. “When the architects, designers presented that concept to us, it didn’t take us very long to say, ‘We want that. We want that. That’s a signature piece for this park.’ So, that was when we said we’re going to have to ante up.”

A larger stage and increased construction costs also added to the price tag.

The city of Salisbury will pay a total of $700,000 to purchase the park — half for the option to buy and the other half to complete the purchase. It will be reimbursed through a state grant for $350,000 of that amount. About $1 million of the $13 million price will be taxpayer funding.

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