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Commerce Square:
A Downtown's Shot-In-The-Arm

By Michael Miyamoto, LASN

What used to be an empty parking lot in the heart of Randleman, N.C., has been transformed into a pristine downtown attraction called Commerce Square. A local artist created the millstone sculptures that sit on either side of the main walkway. Other features include a Christmas Tree Square, a Veterans Memorial Water Fountain and bandstand. Clarolux made all the lights for Commerce Square. The large trees are fitted with Milano series, PAR36-III, solid brass, surface-mounted, directional lights. Ravenna series, BL23-III, brass bullet lights are attached to the smaller trees. ClaroLux's Grado series, DL4-III, lights are used for the walkways.

The downtown in Randleman, N.C., was in a state of disrepair. Businesses had left, stores were vacant and it didn't look good for the local economy. Clearly, Randleman needed some sort of shot-in-the-arm, because this part of the city had become stagnant and blighted. Enter Southern Exposure Landscape Management.

City officials hired the company to come up a design to spruce up a place called Commerce Square, and attract new businesses and bring life back to the central business district.

Randleman now hosts several events a year in the downtown, including the annual North Carolina Food Truck State Championship every June.

There are several landscaped beds throughout Commerce Square to break up the sea of pavers. Southern Exposure Landscape Management put in 15,000 square feet of pavers, 300 linear feet of block wall, 450 lighting fixtures and nearly 200 linear feet of strip lighting. It also put in nearly 1,000 plants and 7,400 square feet of sod. The walkways were made with Belgard Lafitt Rustic Slab in Avondale. The retaining walls were built with Rockwood Classic 8 in brown with corresponding capstones. A red maple tree is the primary feature of this planter box. A wide range of plants were used in all of the landscaped areas, including gardenias; junipers; Indian Hawthornes; cotoneasters; Muhly grasses; and yews.

Southern Exposure will be working on another project in late 2015 or early 2016 installing patios, lighting and plants and creating a seating area for the newly renovated library in Randleman. Randleman, with a population of just over 4,000, is the home of former stock car racer Richard Petty and his family. It's also the home of the Richard Petty Museum.

The city, located about 20 miles south of Greensboro, was established in 1880 as a milling town. More recently, when factory and mill jobs fled for foreign markets, Randleman went into a tailspin.

"City planners and business owners knew a facelift was in order if they wanted to draw shoppers and business owners to the downtown area," said Tricia Goad, of Southern Exposure Landscape Management. "The prospect of this project was exciting to our company because of the dramatic before-and-after experience, and the potential for the town itself," Goad said. "We decided to submit a plan."

This is the outdoor classroom. The large table in the center is a millstone that played a significant part in Randleman's early history. Mid Atlantic Concrete made all the paving materials.

Southern Exposure's proposal was accepted in 2012, and the company spent the next few months drafting and finalizing the design, choosing materials and other tasks.

"The goal was to take a large empty parking lot in the heart of the downtown and turn it into the new epicenter of commerce and entertainment," Goad said.

Designing the complex wasn't easy, because community leaders had their own ideas of what they wanted incorporated into the project.

They asked for a memorial for veterans, a Christmas Tree Square, farmer's market, community garden, water features, a large bandstand for live music, and walkways to tie all these elements together, even an outdoor classroom.

Work began in June 2013, and the entire project was completed in two phases. Excavation and grading of the site was first. Spots designated for walkways, walls and patios were prepped, or dug out. Next came the installation of a base material, which was heavily compacted, followed by the layering of concrete sand to prepare for the pavers.

The walkways and patios were created using Belgard Lafitt Rustic Slab in Avondale for the field. Avondale is a specialty color Belgard created for the project. The borders are Belgard Lafitt pavers in Belgian Stone. For borders along bed lines, the design firm used Versaloc curbing in chestnut. Retaining walls and seatwalls were all constructed with Rockwood Classic 8 straight face in brown.

Since Randleman was once a milling town, millstones play a prominent role in Commerce Square. Two millstones were incorporated into this water feature.

After the walls were installed, grading began to prep for plants and sod. As one crew planted and laid sod, another crew worked on installing landscape lighting throughout the entire project area. Lighting was a crucial element since Commerce Square would be used in the evenings. Southern Exposure's lighting division, Southern Lights, installed lighting on walls, steps, along walkways, underneath trees and the surrounding landscaping.

Phase one took approximately four months and included a bandstand, outdoor classroom, Christmas Tree Square, a millstone water feature, several gardens with borders and retaining walls, walkways, a large dance floor and patio next to the bandstand, and steps leading up to the bandstand.

During phase one, the city also subcontracted with an asphalt company to pave the new parking lots and put in the concrete curbing.

The city had a huge festival with live music performed on the bandstand and a classic car show on Oct. 18, 2013. Then the city hosted its first tree lighting ceremony at the new Christmas Tree Square in December 2013.

Phase 2 was completed in June 2014, with attention paid to the portion south of the bandstand. A Veteran's Memorial Fountain and the Farmer's Market were done at this time.

The fountain is positioned on a circular patio that is elevated by four curved steps and illuminated with 200 feet of strip lighting. It has four underwater lights that give the feature a beautiful glow in the evening. Since completion of the project, the city has had several new businesses move into the new Commerce Square and many of the existing businesses have renovated.

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October 23, 2019, 10:08 pm PDT

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