Tearing down the Martin Luther King Jr. Center would be a travesty to Wade Clark.
Clark is an activist in the hardscrabble North Greenwood neighborhood, where the facility is located.
After almost a year of maneuvering, Clark, a leader for the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center group, was able to save it from demolition, at least for the next five years.
“I just thought that our country needed to maintain some of the symbolic sites that are applicable to our heritage as black people,” Clark said. “I thought it would be absolutely a travesty that we would have the first Martin Luther King Center torn down in America.”
Through an agreement with the Pinellas County School Board, the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center group will be able to reopen it, offer programming and allow it to serve as a memorial to the historical Civil Rights figure through 2017.
Still, the group has to raise about $250,000 to get the center back together.
“It’s all speculative right now. We are trying to come up with funds,” Clark said. “Need to get the roof fixed and other repairs to get it operational.”
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The Martin Luther King Jr. Center was closed because it needed costly repairs. Michael Bessette, associate superintendent for operational services, said the group will have to make repairs to the roof, HVAC system and fire alarm.
The center was operated under an agreement between Clearwater and Pinellas County Schools, which owned the building and land.
The city built the facility on school board property in 1972. The building and land is owned by the school board. The city operated programs out of it through an agreement. That arrangement ended in December 2011.
The city recently expanded the North Greenwood Recreation and Aqautics Complex and offers many of the programs there.
The plan for the facility was to destroy the building if the group had not asked to use it.
The group asked the Pinellas County School Board to operate the center early in 2012. School board members agreed to the contract in October, giving the group a five-year lease at $1 a year to operate it as a community center and memorial to King. The group is expected to maintain the exterior and interior including the lawn and landscaping.
When the center is running, Clark’s vision for it is to help felons and the homeless get back on their feet through education and employment skills training.
Clark said the operation will become a model to extend across the country when the center opens in about three months.
The group has raised about $50,000. A volunteer effort to paint the facility was Saturday, Clark said.
“We still have a long long way to go” Clark said.