‘Finally at this point’: Panama City nears construction of new MLK Rec Center

by Nathan Cobb, Panama City News Herald

After more than four years of waiting, construction of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center is right around the corner.

According to Randy Plank, project manager for Panama City, construction on the new center should break ground in about September and take at least 18 months to complete. The facility will be built in the same footprint as the previous center, which was destroyed in October 2018 by Category 5 Hurricane Michael.

“It has been a long time, and the neighborhoods and the community have been patient,” Plank said. “It’s very gratifying that we’re finally at this point.”

Plank also said one hurdle that has delayed the project’s construction is a required environmental planning and historic preservation test by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is necessary because FEMA agreed to give the city about $15 million to help cover the more than $18 million project.

Officials announced at a City Commission meeting on Feb. 14 that the test should be complete by the end of March, allowing the city to hopefully advertise for construction bids in April. They originally did not expect for the test to be complete until later this year.

Panama City in 2021 awarded CCR Architecture & Interiors, an architecture firm based Birmingham, Alabama, the contract to design the new center. Plank said designs are basically complete and the city was waiting for FEMA to give it the green light.

“We now have a really nice design for an improved version of the old recreation center, which was a very important neighborhood (and) community center for gatherings and many kinds of different events and activities,” he said.

Highlights of the new MLK Jr. Recreation Center include:

  • Multipurpose room.
  • Science, technology and math lab.
  • Arts and crafts room.
  • Recording and editing studio.
  • Teaching kitchen.
  • Fitness center.
  • Reading and study rooms.
  • First aid room.
  • Concession stand .
  • Lounge and games area.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. art mural.

“By late August, we (plan to) be ready to make a recommendation to the City Commission to award a contract,” Plank said. “Early September, we would kick off construction. We are estimating 18 months minimum for construction, and that would put project completion in March of 2025.”

Article originally published by Panama City News Herald.