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South Bends touts $27 million MLK Dream Center as construction gets underway

A crowd of nearly 100 people milled around on Linden Avenue Tuesday morning recounting stories about the old Martin Luther King Center.

School trips, sports leagues — the time Martin Luther King himself visited the area. Members of the community and city officials alike remembered the old MLK Center as a safe place for West Side youth to play and learn.

"You see that sign over there, Linden Avenue? In this whole area, in the school, in the Martin Luther King Center — memories were made," said Mike Jackson, a member of South Bend's Senior Martin Luther King Jr. Club.

But the old MLK Center, built in 1973, was reaching the end of its usefulness and city leaders in 2021 envisioned a new community center for the future.

On Tuesday, the city finalized construction details signaling the start of a year-long construction process for the $27 million center — the most expensive Venues, Parks & Arts project in the city's history.

“This is so much more than just a building. This is a campus of transformation. A campus of liberation, where we’ll be able to liberate all of our people in this community to build and develop all along this corridor," said Maurice Scott, South Bend's director of community initiatives.

Scott is also the former director of the MLK Center and said the project will hopefully transform the whole west side of the city.

The new building will be larger than the current MLK Center and will feature two basketball courts, a fitness center and indoor track and room for a variety of programming including yoga, art and even podcasting. More basketball courts, athletic fields and a playground will be installed outside the center as well.

Construction will get underway in a few weeks and the center is expected to open in early 2025 after the city's Board of Public Works approved bids from contractors for various parts of the construction on Tuesday.

The $27.3 million project includes the Dream Center building as well as improvements to Linden Avenue. Nearly $12 million comes from federal American Rescue Plan dollars, nearly $9 million comes from the city's redevelopment budget and $6 million comes from the city's general funds.

"It's not all about basketball," said MLK Senior Club member George Jones. "This is a hub and a dream where anyone can come and get something from it."

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.