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Saturday, February 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

City adds MLK Jr. to renamed East Central Community Center

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 10, 2020

A crowd cheers in 2018 as  then-Mayor David Condon cuts the ribbon on the building that  was once called the East Central Community Center. The City Council voted unanimously Monday to rename the center as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center at East Central. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A crowd cheers in 2018 as then-Mayor David Condon cuts the ribbon on the building that was once called the East Central Community Center. The City Council voted unanimously Monday to rename the center as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center at East Central. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

For months, city leaders had been divided over whether the East Central Community Center’s new name should continue to match the neighborhood it calls home or honor a civil rights icon.

In the end, they chose both.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to rename the East Central Community Center as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center at East Central.

Monday’s decision caps an impassioned debate that began last year with a proposal to rename the East Central Community Center as the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. The proposal was recently adjusted in response to community push-back to retain “East Central” in its name.

The new title aims to satisfy separate factions within East Central that had sparred over whether a new name could set the community center on a path forward without burying its history as a neighborhood pillar.

The building’s name now more closely reflects the nonprofit that has held a city contract to operate it since 2017, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center.

The City Council held off on a vote last week to allow the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center’s board to weigh in on the proposal, but the board ultimately decided not to take a position on the compromise. Beggs said the nonprofit’s board members balked because they were left with technical questions, such as whether the organization could put its logo on the building, that could not be answered on short notice prior to Monday’s City Council meeting.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who was raised in East Central and represents the neighborhood, implored her fellow council members to support the compromise, saying “we don’t have to diminish” King or the “very iconic five black women” who started the East Central Community Center more than 40 years ago.

Wilkerson said the debate over the building’s name has been “challenging,” but said the compromise would allow the community to “go forward.”

A product of civic engagement sparked by the League of Women for Community Action, the East Central Community Center opened in 1979 as the first community center in Spokane.

The city operated the community center until 2012, when it handed the reins to the nonprofit East Central Community Organization. But the organization’s leadership eventually came into question. In 2017, the city awarded the contract to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center, a nonprofit located on South Sherman Street that has operated since 1970.

The Family Outreach Center’s leaders advocated for the building’s name to be changed in order to provide the organization – and its donors – with a sense of permanence at the new location.

But many in East Central, including those who can recall the East Central Community Center’s founding, recoiled at the proposal. They expressed concern that changing the name would erase the center’s history. Others in East Central worried the name change would effectively be a symbolic gift to the Family Outreach Center, which is not on a permanent contract with the city.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton voted in favor of the new name, but expressed concern about “the history of the ECCC and the elders in that neighborhood who built and worked that center and built up that neighborhood.”

“I would hope that from tonight on the (Family Outreach Center) administration (will) stand up and reach out to every single person in that neighborhood to make them feel that they’re welcome,” Stratton said.

Councilman Michael Cathcart and Councilwoman Kate Burke sharply criticized the city for threatening to renege on its promise to rename the center when it awarded the Family Outreach Center the contract in 2017.

“I’m supporting fulfilling the contract, fulfilling the obligation,” Cathcart said.

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