MLK gardens now 'just him'

Enhancing area around the statue could cost $825,000

Staff WriterJanuary 30, 2008 

— Honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Raleigh can get a bit uncomfortable.

There isn't a bench where one can sit and contemplate. Nor is there a picnic shelter for the schoolchildren who visit. Or even a restroom.

More important, say leaders in Southeast Raleigh, the MLK site lacks any explanation of the slain civil rights leader's life.

Backers hope the city will start expanding the King gardens on Rock Quarry Road as soon as this year.

Raleigh already has purchased a 1.4-acre property alongside the memorial, which stands at one corner of the boulevard named for King.

That cost the city $132,000, and Wake County chipped in $40,000 of its own.

On Tuesday, community activist Eugene Weeks told the City Council's Budget and Economic Development Committee he could deliver an expansion plan by May.

"This is one of the best memorials outside of Atlanta," Weeks said. "I've been to San Antonio and Washington, D.C., and this will give any memorial a run for its money. We need to present it."

The idea for a King memorial first arose in 1988, and those plans envisioned a pavilion, picnic tables and restroom along with the gardens.

The life-size statue of King was unveiled in 1990, and the small garden followed a few months later. But none of the hoped-for comforts materialized, nor any placards describing King's achievements.

"It's just him," Weeks said.

Raleigh officials, including Mayor Charles Meeker, have regretted that the gardens aren't busier.

The 1.4-acre plot more than doubled space in the gardens. But outfitting the new land could cost an estimated $660,000 to $825,000, city documents show.

The council could start discussing money for expansion in time for next year's budget, which will be approved this summer.

"The key," Councilman James West said, "is we need a plan on the table."

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4818

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