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50 show up for glimpse of LR plan for center

By Cammie Bellamy

This article was published August 1, 2014 at 2:31 a.m.

Neighbors of the future West Central Community Center got a progress report on the project from Little Rock officials Thursday and gave their feedback on the planned $6 million multipurpose facility.

About 50 neighborhood residents attended a Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department open house at the old Rosedale Optimist Club at 8616 Colonel Glenn Road.

The club, which in its more than 60-year history served as the Optimist group's headquarters and as the city's West Central Little Rock Sports Complex since 2005, will be demolished to make way for the community center. Funding for the project comes from part of the 1 percentage point sales-tax increase approved by Little Rock voters in 2011.

At Thursday's meeting, Doris Wright, Little Rock's vice mayor and 6th Ward representative on the Board of Directors, said the community center has been a priority for her since her election in 2006.

"This is a long time coming for us," she said. "Every time there has been a funding mechanism proposed, it has been discussed that we would have a community center in this neighborhood. However, it never made it in the final cut. We break that tradition now. We broke it in 2011 when you all trusted me as your ward representative and went to the polls and voted to pass the sales tax."

Parks and Recreation Director Truman Tolefree told attendees that they could expect a groundbreaking within weeks. Once the project is revised according to public comments, Tolefree said, construction could be done in 10 months, allowing the center to open as soon as August 2015.

The roughly 23,000-square- foot center will have an indoor basketball court, a senior-citizen activity center, classrooms, a game room, a fitness center and space for a community radio station, which Wright said has gotten Federal Communications Commission approval.

The original plan for the center included a swimming pool, but Wright told attendees the $850,000 price tag would have pushed construction costs beyond the $6 million allocated from sales-tax funds. She said she and City Manager Bruce Moore would watch other tax projects to find extra dollars to eventually build the pool.

"As projects are bid, as bids come back, there'll be some projects that come in under budget," she said, "and those are the project funds that I'm looking for ... to make up the difference that we need for our pool."

Emanuel Brooks, who lives a few blocks from the site, said he was looking forward to using the center.

"I think it's going to be a real asset to the community," he said. "It'll stabilize our younger and senior citizens both, who have a place that they can come do things and just increase the quality of life."

Joe White, president of the Rosedale Optimist Club, said he had happy memories of the club's baseball program at the Colonel Glenn Road facility.

"By the time I got here, things were rip-roarin'," he said. "Back in '88, we had a thousand kids in the program. It was a fun ride. ... But a couple of things happened: Somewhere around the mid-'90s, volunteerism started really dragging. We had a hard time."

In 2003, the Optimist center closed. But two years later, a partnership between the city and the nearby John Barrow Neighborhood Association reopened the facility, drawing children back to the center's five baseball fields.

Wright, who served as the neighborhood association's president in the early 2000s, said she worked to get activity at the center back to its levels in the Optimist Club's heyday.

"I started a sports program, which was the little baseball program," she said after the meeting. "We started out with the five teams, and we built it up and built it up. ... It's really been about 10 years since we've operated that program and it's grown and grown and grown. This year, we had over 1,200 kids."

A few months after Wright joined the Board of Directors, members authorized the city to purchase the center. The Optimist Club sold it for $1.

Looking back on his time as president of the club, White told attendees that the neighborhood should learn from its difficulties keeping up interest in the site.

"What happens from here forward is up to us," he said. "The city's going to build a first-class facility here, you can see it; they're not leaving much out. But it's only going to be successful as long as the citizens support it."

Metro on 08/01/2014

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psmithstro07231107 says... August 1, 2014 at 9:25 a.m.

How come the city can always find the money for anything southwest needs, but when it comes to this area--we get put on hold... We need a swimming pool in this area, and even I know that it is cheaper to build the pool as part of the building; rather have it cost more later. It is name to stop treating us like misbehaved step children and provide for our needs.

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