CLEARWATER — Since the mid 1970s, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Douglas Avenue has been an anchor for the North Greenwood area. It has hosted countless functions, banquets, rallies, youth programs and even day care.
Now the city intends to close it down because it's no longer worth keeping the aging building open. It needs a new roof and air conditioning. It would cost about $200,000 to fix the place, and another $100,000 a year to operate it.
Some community leaders blasted the decision Thursday night during a public meeting at the center with City Manager Bill Horne.
"We intend to fight for this building," said local NAACP official Sam Collie. "We're going to make a stand."
Talmadge Rutledge, a longtime neighborhood activist who was born in a house on a North Greenwood dirt road in 1929, was visibly upset. "Our government has been shortchanging this community," he said.
That led Horne to defend the city's record in North Greenwood, the most blighted and poverty-stricken part of Clearwater.
Horne took over as city manager in 2000. He noted that since then, the city has built the North Greenwood Recreation Complex and the North Greenwood Library. It has spent more than $1 million on traffic calming to slow speeding cars. It has taken steps to fight drug dealing.
"When you say the city hasn't done anything, I beg to disagree," Horne said. He added that the Morningside neighborhood in southeast Clearwater was "fit to be tied" because the city can no longer afford to build a new rec center that Morningside had been promised for years.
Most importantly, he said, the various tutoring, computer training and job skills programs that are housed in the MLK Center will move to North Greenwood's rec center and library, both of which are nearby.
He said that would help the cause of the North Greenwood Library, which at times has been in danger of being closed due to budget cuts. "It pretty well solidifies those facilities staying open well into the future," he said.
Several residents asked about the possibility of pooling their resources and maintaining the MLK Center themselves. Horne warned that it would be expensive.
Several people also were unhappy about the impending closure of a building named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In response to that, Horne hinted that City Council members are open to the idea of renaming the North Greenwood Recreation Complex.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.