Mayor Nick Tennyson put on a hard hat, climbed on board a bulldozer and dealt the first blow to an old tire store.
Supporters of the project cheered as the building tumbled down. Tennyson calls the project a sign of tangible change in downtown Durham.
"A lot of things that have happened in Durham over the last few years have been behind walls that have been redone," Tennyson says. "There is a lot of activity, but it is not tangible because it is not visible."
The tire store and a transmission shop are two places that are being torn down to make room for Durham's Central Park. The groundbreaking is five years in the making.
"The idea that we are actually making dirt fly, and that it has been in planning for so long, to really see the stuff move is fabulous," says Curt Eschelman, a member of the Durham Central Park project.
The six-acre park will include a 500-seat amphitheater, an interactive water garden, a playground and greenway.
Supporters say it will redefine downtown Durham.
"We are going to quit thinking about downtown as inside the loop," Eschelman says. "We are going to think of it as ballpark to ballpark, Brightleaf to the county services. It's a new day for Durham."
The park project will move quickly now that construction has started. Crews plan to take down the buildings, tear off the asphalt and start planting grass in the next two weeks.
The first phase of the park opens in June. Construction will begin on the amphitheater and water garden this fall.
The park property was purchased through a $1.4 million bond referendum. Organizers need to raise another $6 million through private donors.
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