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Posted on: February 2, 2024

Panama City to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center Groundbreaking

Graphic for Ceremonial Groundbreaking

The Mayor and Commissioners for the City of Panama City invite the public to join them on Friday, February 16, 2024 at 4 p.m. to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

Located in Glenwood on E. 14th Street, the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, known as “The Rec,” has served as the center gathering point in the historical African American community for more than 50 years. Historical records show the Negro Improvement Society made a request to the city for a recreational center in 1955. The Negro Improvement Society donated the land, and the city built the Glenwood Recreation Center which was later renamed to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early 1980’s.

Photo of Glenwood Recreation Center sign

The former facility was destroyed when Hurricane Michael made landfall in Bay County on October 10, 2018.

“In the spirit of building back better and in accordance with the citizen-led vision, the City of Panama City proudly starts construction on a nearly $20 million recreation center in the heart of the city,” said Commissioner Janice Lucas who represents Ward II, including Glenwood.  “Old and young alike will enjoy the programs that will be offered at the new recreation center.”

The Mayor and Commissioners awarded a construction contract to Burke Construction Group, Inc. in the amount of $19,549,646 at their regular meeting on January 23, 2024. This construction represents the first vertical public rebuild project in Panama City since the category five hurricane.

“Thank you so much for your vote of confidence and the opportunity to build this amazing project. I promise you that we will stand together arm in arm at the grand opening knowing that all of us served this community well,” Burke Construction Co-founder David Martinez shared after the contract was awarded at the Commission Meeting.

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The center was designed by CCR Architects with input provided by residents during public charrettes, including a youth charrette. The ideas gathered during the charrettes helped guide the design process, ensuring the center reflected the unique character and desires of the community.

"Just as Martin Luther King Jr. created a ‘movement’ for civil rights, we designed the new facility to convey ‘movement’ in its massing, shapes and colors," said CCR Architecture and Interiors Vice President Roman Gary.  "The front façade of the community center building leans forward to indicate motion, stretching and reaching out to the community. Chevrons, which repeat and point along the façade to show direction around the gym, transition to form the acronym ‘MLK’ surrounded in glass facing E. 15th Street. Lastly, as the civil rights icon expressed in his dream of an integrated society of multiple races of people, the new center integrates and combines multiple colors of architectural metal panels to form a composition to serve the community."

The overall complex will span the entire block of E. 14th Court between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and N. Palo Alto Avenue. A 12,000 square foot community building will serve as a hub for various activities and events with dedicated space for large gatherings, a teaching kitchen, STEM lab, arts and crafts, reading room, recording studio and gaming center. Adjacent to the community building, the 18,000 square foot gymnasium will feature two basketball courts, allowing for organized sports activities and friendly games. The lighted outdoor basketball court will extend the playing options even further, providing opportunities for outdoor sports during the day and night. A multi-sport turf field, playground, greenspace, parking, and stormwater infrastructure will also be installed on the property. The After School Assistance Program (ASAP) building will remain in operation at E.14th Court and N. Palo Alto Avenue.

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“The Quality of Life team and I are excited to work with Burke Construction to make the vision and new facility come to life," said Quality of Life Director Keith Mefford.  "The reopening of the recreation center will help foster community engagement, encourage healthy activities, and provide opportunities for learning, creativity, and recreation." 

The Groundbreaking Ceremony will feature remarks from Mayor Michael Rohan, Commissioner Lucas, Burke Construction representatives and members of the community. Refreshments, live music performances, family-friendly activities, giveaways and more will follow.

“This groundbreaking will be more than just a ceremonial turning of some dirt; we’re going to turn up the enthusiasm with a celebration that we’re coming out of the storm in a grand way,” said Lucas.

The construction of the new recreation center is estimated to take approximately 14 months and is being funded by a combination of FEMA Public Assistance funding, loan proceeds, and a potential New Market Tax Credit, which the City Commission is currently seeking.

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