Money sought for new center in First Ward

PRIDE’s founding goal was to create an all-purpose center in the central city.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:09 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Like some families have dream homes, one Columbia organization has architectural plans drawn up for a dream facility. What it doesn't have yet are the resources to fund it.

Positive Regional Impact Diversified Enterprise was established in December to create a central community space that would include meeting rooms and classrooms, gym space and a commercial kitchen. The group wants to merge a recreation center with office space for agencies that will provide support for residents of the First Ward.

According to various PRIDE board members, it wouldn't be just another Activity and Recreation Center, Blind Boone Center or Intersection community center.

“There’s a difference between actual neighborhood organizations and groups that come in nine to five,” said First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, who is heavily involved with PRIDE. “We come in with the untraditional approach.”

Crayton said PRIDE wasn’t intended to compete with other centers in Columbia. She sees the organization bringing small groups under the same umbrella in an area where a central resource center is needed. Also, Crayton said people in the community already know the existing organizations under PRIDE and are comfortable with these programs. Building a center would just be bringing the opportunities closer to home, she said.

Ellen Webber, co-founder of PRIDE, said the effort to build the community center is “in the embryonic stages.”

“We’re trying to generate support,” Webber said. “We need the community to back it.”

Board members for PRIDE come from a variety of existing Columbia organizations, including the Columbia Boxing Club, Destiny of Hope, Imani Mission Center and Rising Stars Sports Association.

Webber, who works as a real estate agent, said PRIDE has zeroed in on the First Ward as a location for the center. They’re looking at potential building sites, though the organization has neither applied for grants nor begun fundraising. The group has released a glossy brochure, financed by board members, outlining the plans for the center.

“(The center) would make a more diverse community; I think that’s important today,” said Glen Cobbins, PRIDE board member and outreach director at the Imani Mission Center.

Cobbins said such a building in the central city would help his organization, which aids low-income people by providing tutoring to children and offering resources in anger management and for addiction, to expand its facility and draw more people in.

Ray Magruder, co-founder of the Rising Stars Sports Association, said his organization would gain a central location from PRIDE’s plans. Also, the organization’s education campaign would be able to expand with new classroom space, which is included in the plans.

In one of PRIDE’s first public endeavors, it partnered with Rising Stars to host the Mid-America Youth Basketball Tournament from June 17 to 19. The tournament involved more than 70 teams that played in local school gymnasiums. “A centralized location would be a safe haven for kids in the First Ward to play basketball, provide tutoring and develop life skills,” Magruder said.

Accessibility is also a key aspect of PRIDE’s mission. A central community center would be within walking distance for children living in low-income areas, Webber said. Although vouchers are available for the ARC, she said it is difficult for single-mother families to provide the supervision needed for their children to use the ARC.

“We’re definitely not competing with the ARC; if anything, we’re trying to enhance the ARC," Webber said. "We’re trying to find a free place for children to go.”

Brian Cook, who organizes the Columbia Boxing Club, said the teens he spoke with were interested in a center.

The club began in late 2001 and has about 20 boxers aged 11 to 22 that are registered with USA Boxing, though Cook said many more come to their Bear Creek location to hang out and watch the action. He thinks that having practice space closer to the central city housing projects, where a large amount of the club members live, would be helpful.

Mike Hood, director for Columbia Parks and Recreation, said PRIDE’s endeavor would be a positive addition to the community.

“It sounds like it’s the type of facility that would serve a neighborhood,” Hood said.

Keith Miller, principal in charge of Columbia Associates Architecture, has created preliminary floor plans for the center as part of his volunteer position on the board. According to Miller, the center would be 32,000 square feet, stand two stories tall and have parking. Building such a center within the First Ward would require land rezoning.

“We’re going to make it work within the context of the neighborhood,” Miller said. Miller said the exact location of the center would depend on First Ward support.

“If the immediate surrounding neighborhood isn’t with us, we’ll look elsewhere,” Miller said. “The last thing you want to do is create animosity in a neighborhood.”

In the next few weeks, PRIDE plans to introduce the concept to the First Ward neighborhood and actively pursue its major donor list before formalizing a timeline for the project.

In the future, they will hold public information gatherings and seek grants for the project.

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