A decade after Ben Hill Community Center last hosted programming, and nearly 8 years since community outcry saved it from demolition, the idle recreational center is on its way back.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Reed Community Foundation founder Keith Reed announced a joint effort to renovate and reopen the center at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Through $177,000 in a 2006 sales tax package, the city will replace the center’s roof and repair its exterior. The Reed Community Foundation plans to renovate the interior.
The upcoming Improve Our Tulsa package up for a vote on Nov. 12 will also include $2.75 million to renovate the surrounding park. Bynum said it was “as exciting a moment I can recall in the recent history of our city” to announce the center’s revival.
“I’m so grateful that we found a partner with the vision and the commitment that is going to partner with us and help us reopen Ben Hill Community Center,” Bynum said. “Community centers in Tulsa have not had the best decade. I can easily recall talking to folks when I was running for mayor. ... When the city is going around tearing down rec centers under cover of darkness; we can do better as a city.
“Now in just the last year, we have not just saved, but revitalized three different community centers in Tulsa. Chamberlain, McClure and then today, Ben Hill.”
The community center, 210 E. Latimer Place, reportedly closed in 2002 but hosted off and on programming until about a decade ago. In 2012, it and eight other recreation centers were targeted for demolition at a time when the city considered them too far gone to refurbish. Crews demolished the center’s pool in 2013.
Reed, known as “Coach” to the kids he’s been a father figure for and as “Flash” in the ring, said it’s been a long journey to get the foundation to where it is. The foundation has outgrown its two other north Tulsa locations, and Reed said the time was right to expand while helping the city bring back a neighborhood institution.
“It’s unbelievable,” Reed said. “I’ve been working on this for years and now the dream is true.”
For more than 14 years, the foundation has offered programs and services including tutoring, physical conditioning and character development for more than 200 kids each year. Reed said the new location, which he said the foundation will occupy by May 2020, will let the team expand programs.
Bringing back the community center goes a long way for the neighborhood at large as well. Rev. Gerald Davis, one of the Reed Community Foundation’s board members and the chairman of the Greenwood Neighborhood Association, said the renovated community center gives residents a sense of ownership.
“This building represents the historical significance of bringing the community into a place that gives empowerment to individuals and the community,” Davis said. “And it represents the imagination to take people not just that, ‘I am somebody,’ but to where we can help others. This is a great day.
“This is ours. The community has always claimed Ben Hill Park as a beacon for what Greenwood is.”