The newly renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gardens will reopen Saturday, two days before the nation commemorates the late civil rights leader.
The expansion project, which cost Raleigh roughly $1 million, included adding a covered area with picnic benches, bathrooms, a water fountain and parking spaces, including two spots for buses. A previous entrance to the park off Rock Quarry Road was closed off, leaving just the main entrance off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“This is a great memorial, and now people can come and stay for a while,” said Lora Greco, a landscape architect with the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. “These renovations make it easier for people to use the park.”
The city will hold a dedication ceremony Saturday at 11 a.m. at the park, which was built in 1990 and was the first public park in the nation solely devoted to honoring King and the civil rights movement. Raleigh City Council member Corey Branch, who represents Southeast Raleigh, said he’s glad to see the park reopening.
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“It’s especially good for our youth,” Branch said. “The new covered area allows space for more programs. It shows that Raleigh cares about the legacy of Dr. King.”
Branch will turn 39 on Saturday – the same age as King when he was assassinated in 1968.
“There’s a special meaning because of that,” Branch said. “It shows how much someone can accomplish at a young age.”
Schools will be able to use the space for programs, and people can rent the covered area for parties and other events. There are two bus stops nearby, making the park more accessible, Greco said.
A 6-foot, 2-inch bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., surrounded by shrubs and flowers, welcomes visitors into the garden. Nearby, a 12-ton water monument honors civil rights leaders in the area. Benches are placed near the sculpture in a half-circle.
“The area is quiet and allows for reflection,” Greco said.
In 2011, the city council approved the planning process for the renovation project, which was followed by drafting plans and designs, public input meetings and presentations to the council and the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board.
Representatives from the Triangle Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, South Central Citizens Advisory Council, the parks and recreation advisory board, Wake County schools, St. Augustine’s and Shaw universities, Community Advocates for Parks in Southeast Raleigh and an at-large member contributed ideas for the expansion project.
The gardens were built as a result of advocates’ efforts, including the Martin Luther King Committee. In 2003, the city acquired 1.67 acres adjacent to the park to expand the gardens. Five years later, advocates submitted a request to the city council to improve the gardens, which was approved.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler
Want to attend?
The dedication will be held on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gardens at 1215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Raleigh.