Kirkland: Past giving birth to the future today

Kirkland: Past giving birth to the future today

Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 8:46 pm
By: Glenda H. Caudle Special Features Editor

By GLENDA H. CAUDLE Special Features Editor “The past is giving birth to the future today in Obion County,” according to Discovery Park of America founder Robert Kirkland of Union City. Kirkland and his wife are donating millions of dollars to design, construct and fill the innovative educational-entertainment-tourist attraction on Union City’s northwest border through the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation. “We are breaking ground — or ‘turning sod’ as our Canadian partners in this adventure like to say — for Discovery Park of America on the very land sold to Union City’s founder — Gen. George W. Gibbs — in 1830. It was within this area where we were standing today that he built his home and, 24 years later in 1854, laid out his plan for the City of Union City. And now Gen. Gibbs’ great-great-grandson, John Bell, and his wife and family have been a part of the army of citizen volunteers who have formulated the plans for Discovery Park of America.” Those plans moved a step closer to the realization of the Kirklands’ dream today as the community celebrated the groundbreaking for the complex that will include 150,000 square feet of exhibit area in a world-class museum designed with a beautiful “great hall,” a Pioneer Village and a lush and varied botanical garden. In addition, the museum will flow into a municipally-funded convention center, and the 50-acre plot which will be home to Discovery Park of America will also house the Tennessee welcome center for the soon-to-be-constructed I-69 super highway, stretching from Canada to Mexico. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has agreed to place a permanent center on the site in the future, but funding for that structure will come from the federal interstate budget. Until such time as that money is released, Discovery Park of America’s planners are hoping to find a log cabin that can be set up on the grounds, adjacent to the Pioneer Village and complementary to that design, to serve as a greeting area for travelers arriving on the new highway. Highway to fulfillment News that the interstate’s route would include Union City originally fueled Kirkland’s determination to find a way to benefit the community where he grew up and has lived and overseen his very successful business ventures. A museum complex to educate local youngsters, entertain local families and attract tourist dollars from across the nation to bolster the local economy soon took shape in his fertile imagination and he began to put his plans in motion. In the fall of 2007, Kirkland and others interested in promoting Obion County presented their idea for a complex that had yet to be named at that point to employees in the highway and tourism offices and to Gov. Phil Bredesen. As officials watched plans develop locally — including the purchase of 50 acres of prime real estate adjacent to the proposed I-69 route, the hiring of world-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal of Ottawa, Ontario, and the formation of citizen-based advisory groups made up of more than 200 local volunteers — Nashville’s interest in the project grew. A few weeks ago, the State of Tennessee agreed to build a frontage road paralleling I-69 to provide easier access for those leaving the superhighway via planned exits in the neighborhood of Brevard Road and the Hickman (Ky.) highway. Kirkland says the road should benefit private property owners whose parcels lie between the proposed interstate and Everett Boulevard. Such benefits are icing on the delicious “cake of opportunity” for all area citizens, as far as Kirkland is concerned. David Searcy of Allen Searcy Builder-Contractor Inc., the local construction manager, agrees. “This is an opportunity not only for our company, but also for the community. I think about what is going on around here now — the new port in Tiptonville, the airport expansion, the purchase of right-of-way for I-69 and now Discovery Park — and I see this community becoming one of the leaders in the area.” Polly Putman, coordinator for the museum, a current board member of the Obion County Museum (which will be “folded in” to Discovery Park), a member of the Discovery Center board of directors and assistant to project manager Jim Rippy, adds, “I’m extremely grateful for the gift and the opportunities being given to Obion County and West Tennessee because of this project.” “I’m so glad to see it going up. It’s unbelievable that we should get something like this and I’m certainly looking forward to it. I think it will be an asset to the city and county and the whole area,” says Bob Nichols, who is also a museum board director and who has been involved in civil engineering work on theproject through his company, Robert L. Nichols and Associates of Union City. The Kirklands’ plans have always included (a) benefiting local artisans, craftsmen and professionals as much as possible through the project and (b) tapping in to local ideas, talent and enthusiasm to determine the direction of Discovery Park of America. Other area businesses already involved in the project include D.W. Collier Engineering Inc. of South Fulton and Dwight Phillips of Phillips Engineering Co. of Union City, the electrical engineer on the project. Beyond the immediate area, Nashville-based Gresham, Smith and Partners has been signed on for landscape architecture tasks and has already formed a working relationship with the architectural team from Canada and met with two of the local planning committees to develop and refine plans for the museum grounds. “Our team at Gresham, Smith and Partners has worked in partnership with the architectural team on this project to develop a site master plan that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but functional and environmentally friendly,” says Mike Barry, project manager for Gresham, Smith and Partners. “We look forward to developing the master plan and providing landscape architecture services for the on-site botanical garden as well as the Pioneer Village in a way that will best utilize the 50 acres the project encompasses.” Telling the story In addition to hours of behind-the-scenes planning and “dream” development, an effort to tell the Discovery Park of America story has also been unfolding. Members of the Marketing Committee, chaired by Mary Nita Bondurant of Union City, have not only planned the groundbreaking ceremony but have proposed the name for the project and have settled on a firm in Nashville to provide the Discovery Park Web site and other marketing materials. Mike Delevante, whose firm bears his name and who recently has captured several awards for his work, was a guest at the groundbreaking today. “It has been a great day for Union City, for Obion County, for Tennessee and this region,” Mrs. Bondurant says. “We can’t even begin to conceive how the Discovery Park of America will impact our community. “I was very pleased to have Mike Delevante from Delevante Creative in Nashville join us for the day’s events. Delevante’s is the advertising agency used for the Web site design. (www.discoveryparkofamerica.com) and they are currently working on some collateral pieces for The Discovery Park. We knew they were good, but we really didn’t know how good. They have recently won national awards for the creative work they did for Cheekwood Museum in Nashville (a botanical garden and museum of art).” “If anyone remotely connected to Obion County runs into Robert or Jenny Kirkland, they should give them a big hug. What a vision; what a gift.” Discovery Park of America also figures prominently on architect Douglas Cardinal’s Web site. Cardinal, who was educated in Texas and has long loved the South, has made many visits to Obion County to discuss the project and receive input from the volunteer local planners. When he and his team arrived Monday afternoon, however, they brought with them their families, as well as their by-now-familiar drawings and a new set of 14 panels they are ready to unveil for the project. “Our team is so enthusiastic and excited about this project and the challenges of it and the chance to work with the whole community. Bret (his son and vice president of the Ottawa, Ontario, firm) and Mark (senior project manager) and their wives and children and several of our good friends from Washington — Edie Crutcher and Susan Kent and B.J. Gerber — are all here. (The Washington guests were strong supporters of Cardinal and his team when they worked on the beautiful National Museum of the American Indian in the nation’s capital for four years. It was that work that brought Cardinal to the attention of the Kirklands.) All of these are so very interested in the project and Bob’s vision and the community’s vision. They want to meet the people here and be part of this event,” Cardinal said. In addition, Cardinal’s wife, Idoia Arana-Beobide de Cardinal, a museologist and another ardent supporter of Discovery Park of America, and their two young children attended today’s festivities, including the reception hosted by the Canadian consulate at the Kirkland home in honor of the project and in celebration of Canada’s birthday. The architects not only took part in today’s “sod turning” but will be beginning yet another series of meetings with the committees over the next two days as refinements continue to be made to the plans for the complex. And to add even more excitement to the moment, Kirkland and Rippy say they are close to naming a director for the new museum. Nineteen applications were received originally as word of the massive project spread across the country. From that number, three names rose to the top and interviews have been ongoing. Directors hope to announce their decision soon and then quickly gain the expertise of an experienced museum professional who will work with the committees, architects and contractors. Enthusiasm abounds “This groundbreaking fills us with excitement as Obion Countians begin to see beyond the blank slate of an open field as the Discovery Park unfolds to become a facility of education, history and culture greatly impacting northwest Tennessee,” stated a joint release from the Obion County Chamber of Commerce and the Obion County Joint Economic Development Council. “The spirit and involvement from the volunteers and the community prove why Obion County was named one of the best places to live in rural America.” Sharing the discoveries While the Kirklands and their army of local volunteers have a fine appreciation for the economic benefits Discovery Park of America promises to bring to the community, their primary interest is in enriching the minds of all who visit the museum complex — from the oldest to the youngest — with the wonders, past and present and yet to come, around them. “Our museum will tell the story of our local history, including the Civil War era and the days when Indians enjoyed its many gifts of land and water, inhabited for their benefit by a diverse wildlife community,” Kirkland promises. “It is even conceivable that, as we dig deep into the earth to lay the foundation for Discovery Park, we may unearth treasures going back into pre-historic times. We do not know what there is yet to be uncovered and revealed in this wonderful place we call home, but we are committed to preserving and celebrating the things we will discover — here on the site where both our community and Discovery Park of America officially began.” Special Features Editor Glenda Caudle may be contacted at glenda caudle@ucmessenger.com. Published in The Messenger 7.1.08

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