CLEARWATER — Families in North Greenwood once used the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center for wedding receptions, neighborhood dinners and classes for children who struggled with reading or long division.
The pale pink building at 1201 Douglas Ave., in the heart of Clearwater's most impoverished neighborhood, is empty now.
A new nonprofit group, the MLK Jr. Neighborhood Coalition, hopes to change that, although it'll be a big challenge.
"For this center or any center with Dr. King's name on it to be closed is a shame," said Milton James, the group's vice president. "It's so important to the people who live here."
Last year, the city of Clearwater shuttered the center because repairs and upkeep had become too costly. The building needs a new roof and air conditioning system. The city estimated it would cost $200,000 to fix the place, and another $100,000 a year to operate it.
Even before the building closed, a group of local volunteers started planning to reopen it.
Last month, members of the MLK Jr. Neighborhood Coalition met with the Pinellas County School Board, which owns the building. They emphasized the center's importance. These kids, James told the board, need King's dream in their hearts. They need to understand the concepts of peace and working together, he said.
The board handed over the lease.
On Saturday, the coalition will host a celebratory party at the center. Choirs from Mount Carmel Baptist and Mount Olive AME churches will perform. City Manager Bill Horne and Deputy Police Chief Sandra Wilson, among others, will speak.
The group hopes the event will mobilize community members to donate money and volunteer their services. The coalition needs to raise money before the building's grand reopening.
"We're in the process of putting the pieces together now," Milton said. "We're working together, determined."
In recent years, the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board had been overseeing youth programs at the MLK center. When the building closed, programs were moved to North Greenwood's recreation center and library, both of which are nearby.
"There's a certain amount of sentimental value associated with that center," Horne said Thursday. "It seems to have a broad base of support in the community. It's going to need that to sustain the cost of having it open."
Danielle Paquette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4224.