‘It is just state of the art’: Panama City OKs master plan for new MLK Recreation Center

by Samantha Neely, The News Herald

PANAMA CITY — Designs for the planned Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center were approved during the Panama City Commission meeting Tuesday morning. 

The commission approved the draft master plan after CCR Architects and Interiors presented the renderings to city officials and residents. City officials said this new recreation center will offer the community lots of new amenities and features for all ages. The previous MLK center was destroyed by Hurricane Michael more than three years ago.

“It is just state of the art,” Commissioner Jenna Flint Haligas said. “It’s giving our kids things that bigger cities offer to them, like STEM situations and editing and sound rooms and sound engineering and just really cool things, like eSports and places to hang and all those kinds of things.”

According to the presentation, construction of the center should be completed by June 2024, with the grand opening in about September of that year.

The highlights of the presentation included a community center, a gymnasium, walking paths, picnic areas, playgrounds, a STEM lab and more parking spaces. The construction for all the amenities would be divided into two phases. 

The center is estimated to cost $14.7 million and will be reimbursed with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, insurance, the federal New Markets Tax Credit, private and corporate donations and other eligible projects funding programs.

As someone who has been in the Glenwood community for years, Commissioner Kenneth Brown said the MLK Recreation Center has come a long way. He said its history within the community is long. 

“It originally started with just one building, one area probably in the same spot it was, if I can remember,” Brown said. “Every African American in Bay County, not Panama City, in Bay County, came to the MLK Rec Center … .”

Brown said the commissioners and architects have done an amazing job implementing the citizens’ vision and creating it into a design. He said he was especially happy with the impact and input they had from the younger generations. 

“When the younger people come in, they come in and they really formed together, they got together, they got shirts, they got everything,” Brown said. “And without that, that was the past being taught right to bring it up, so we can get everything keep coming in, like its coming in now.”

The current Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center is pictured in April. MIKE FENDER / THE NEWS HERALD

Brown added that he is excited for the youth to come out and become leaders at the MLK Rec Center, leading the charge and hosting events there.  

For the residents of Glenwood and Bay County, Brown said the new center would set the area on the right path. He said this will bring the city to a different level. 

“It’s not all about African Americans, now that’s just the history,” Brown said. “It’s about Panama City coming up to be just what we want it to be.”

Article originally published by the Panama City News Herald.