The dedication ceremony for Independence Park’s new rose garden is May 20th.
The roses and other plants in the garden it’s replacing demanded special maintenance due to their age and while the garden was certainly a pleasant area to spend time, it was underutilized as a public space.
My wife and I played with our new puppy there and pushed my newborn in a stroller through the hedge rows. Those were great memories. I was bummed to see the old garden go, but there’s no denying that the new garden is more suited to the needs of the neighborhood and the city than the old one, no matter how much nostalgia I might attach to it.
Since last July, the Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation department has been working to create an entirely new garden. With design features such as a larger space for events like weddings and a ramp to make the garden handicapped-accessible, this new iteration of the garden is more useful, safer and in my opinion more beautiful than the older garden.
Across the street from the brand new rose garden, it’s impossible not to notice the other changes that have taken place.
Signs thanking the community for its years of patronage hang in the windows of restaurants that have recently closed. Four years ago, a Friday night for Elizabeth residents like myself might include browsing comics at Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find before dinner at Crisp followed by a mini bar crawl at Kennedy’s, Philosopher’s Stone and Jackalope Jack’s (this was well before the puppy and the newborn).
All of those places are now gone or have plans to move.
The Jackalope Jack’s and P-Stone structures are slated to be replaced by a new apartment community that was finally approved after contested negotiations between the developer, community and city council earlier this year. The fate of the spaces Crisp and Heroes occupied are less clear, but it’s safe to assume they’ll be filled with something shiny, new and expensive.
The changes occurring in Elizabeth aren’t limited to just the corner of 7th Street and Caswell.
Talk of tearing down Memorial Stadium has many in a huff. The Double Door Inn and its rich music history sadly is no more and the brick cubes of CPCC seem destined to further encroach on the neighborhood after the school purchased the land along Elizabeth Avenue where Crown Station and City Bagel once stood.
Sure looks like a pretty gloomy outlook for Elizabeth, right? No. The loss of the Double Door Inn aside, Elizabeth couldn’t be healthier.
A wave of new businesses is routinely streaming into the area, and many neighborhood mainstays are thriving, and in some cases even spreading their wings throughout the city from the home base of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s food scene is fine.
Neighborhood restaurant staples like The Fig Tree, Carpe Diem and Customshop are still among the city’s best restaurants. Local franchises like Sabor, Hawthorne’s Pizza and Viva Chicken continue to do great business at their original Elizabeth locations while they expand to the far reaches of the city and beyond. Earl’s Grocery has established itself as one of the best hangouts in the city. Bang Bang Burgers just won Best Burger at Moo and Brew Fest for the third straight year. This is the fifth sentence of this paragraph about great Elizabeth restaurants and I have yet to mention Sunflour Bakery, the Tipsy Burro, Lupie’s and Cajun Queen.
And it’s not just Elizabeth’s restaurants that are fine.
The Elizabeth outpost of Burn Bootcamp manages to overcome one of the worst parking lots in the city to thrive and has become a community hub.
Just across 7th Street, the Lineberger Dentistry and Orthodontics building converted a local eyesore to a gorgeous structure covered with beautiful murals from two Matts – Hooker and Moore – that are among the best public art in the city.
And those murals are just the latest iteration of a series of murals an public art that have been added to the neighborhood in recent years, including several installations of Wall Poems and murals on both Sabor and Lupie’s. Heck, there’s even a dang iron Griffin embedded in the new stone wall outside that fresh new rose garden.
The future is bright beyond just restaurants, businesses and public art.
The Gold Line streetcar that has provided a boost to those businesses on Elizabeth Avenue is expanding. Soon, Elizabeth and Plaza Midwood will be even more connected via Hawthorne Lane and the streetcar’s extension through uptown to the West side of Charlotte will strengthen Elizabeth’s connection to the center city and beyond even more.
Oh, and those grumblings about tearing down Memorial Stadium? One reason for doing so could be to accommodate a new Major League Soccer franchise, which would further integrate the streetcar and existing transportation corridors to return the reputation of “professional sports hub destination” to the story of Elizabeth.
There are things I’ll miss about the old Elizabeth.
I miss getting off the Route 27 bus a stop early and walking by Philosopher’s Stone so I could hear the live music for a few minutes on my way home. I loved eating a garbage plate at Jackalope Jack’s on a Sunday afternoon while watching NFL football. Those are great memories. But I also love grabbing a quick coffee at Earl’s as I wait for the streetcar to swing back around to take me into the city, a relatively recent indulgence.
But someday soon, I’ll be pleasantly surprised to walk to Independence Park with my family and stumble upon a wedding ceremony in the new rose garden – the same garden that was torn down and rebuilt as a better, more useful version of itself.