Ground broken; now construction begins

Ground broken; now construction begins

Posted: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 9:16 pm
By: Glenda H. Caudle Special Features Editor

By GLENDA H. CAUDLE Special Features Editor “This is what happens when a community works together. We discover just how much we can accomplish,” Robert Kirkland said of Tuesday’s “groundbreaking” sod-turning celebration for Discovery Park of America in Union City. The event, which coincided with the nation of Canada’s birthday festivities, was held beneath clear skies and was sweetened with moderate mid-morning temperatures and pleasant breezes. The crowd was estimated at around 250 Americans and Canadians — including the Ottawa architectural team charged with designing the $100 million education-entertainment-tourism project. And those who did not find shade beneath the speakers’ tent seemed at ease as they stood throughout the area and applauded the light-hearted remarks of the special guests. It was Kirkland himself, however, who elicited the biggest guffaws as he relaxed into his typical dry and folksy style to wrap up the speeches called for in the printed program. The Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation is underwriting a large portion of the cost of the museum, Pioneer Village and botanical gardens and green house — a fairly serious undertaking. But Kirkland is determined to enjoy every moment of the adventure and to celebrate it with the humor he directs frequently at himself. “You know, if a guy with no money started talking about building a project like this, people would call him a bum and just ignore him. But you let a guy with money start talking and suddenly he’s a visionary,” he deadpanned to the delight of the crowd. Tempting taste treats that included fried pies, ham and biscuits, muffins, tea and ice cold lemonade; gifts of mousepads bearing the Discovery Park of America logo with the groundbreaking date, lapel pins with the flags of both countries, pens, miniature Canadian flags for waving and fans featuring the Canadian maple leaf in red and white with the inscription “A cool breeze from Canada” — all provided for the occasion by the Canadian consulates in Memphis and Atlanta; and decorations of blue and white balloons that bobbed in the fingers of the youngest guests, snapping flags representing the U.S., Canada, Tennessee and Discovery Park of America, gleaming shovels and sparkling hard hats lined up on a draped table made it clear a celebration was in the offing Tuesday morning. “Discovery Park of America was destined to be a community effort from the moment I started talking about it to my family and friends,” Kirkland said later, after the groundbreaking was completed and the Canadian consulate-hosted reception at the Kirkland home outside the city had wound down. “Jenny and I have been delighted with the volunteer efforts that are not only shaping what people will experience in the park once it opens in the spring of 2010 but are providing events like the one we enjoyed Tuesday. This has just been great,” Kirkland said once the shoutin’ was over Tuesday and he was able to relax and relive the moment. The Discovery Park founder also expressed pride in the work being done by the Canadian architectural team headed by Douglas Cardinal and rounded out by his son and company vice president Bret Cardinal and senior project manager Mark Conley. The architects are meeting with the volunteer groups planning the exhibits and programs for the park today and Thursday and have brought along 14 new panels featuring refinements to the ideas that have been in the works since last October. The panels were on display at the groundbreaking, which was staged on the rise in what was identified only a few days ago as “the wheat field across from Second Baptist Church” on Everett Boulevard. “We are so fortunate they are doing this job,” he said of the Canadians, who were clearly excited about the dual celebration of their nation’s birthday and the birth of Discovery Park of America. “They were so gracious to come down here and participate with us. And then to have members of the Canadian consulates in Memphis and Atlanta attend and express such enthusiasm for our plans — it was just the perfect birthday present for everyone involved,” Kirkland added. Judith Costello from Atlanta and B. Lee Mallory and Pauline Cantley from Memphis were among those who were on hand for the celebration. The Cardinal family was also responsible for the visit by a trio of guests from the Washington, D.C., area who had met and assisted Douglas Cardinal when he was working on the National Museum of the American Indian, a part of the Smithsonian complex. These included Edie Crutcher, B.J. Gerber and Susan Kent. “We are happy our groundbreaking could coincide with the Canadians’ national holiday. They have been so generous to us and we will always regard them as special partners in this effort we are embarking on,” Kirkland said. “We’re discovering more and more great things as we progress.” Published in The Messenger 7.2.08

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