‘Campus of liberation’: Take a look at South Bend’s Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center

A photo rendering shows what the new Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center will look like. It's expected to open in February 2025, with construction beginning next month.

SOUTH BEND — Tony Scott wept quietly Tuesday morning at an event to celebrate the future of the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center, a $24.5 million project set to open in spring 2025 and reinvigorate a struggling Black neighborhood on South Bend’s west side.

But Scott’s eyes weren’t wet over the future. Scott, 74, cried joyful tears remembering how his own children and his neighborhood’s children used to play at the 1973 building that was knocked down this year to make way for a new one.

Scott wept as though he were already nostalgic for the new memories to be made.

“This is so much more than just a building,” said Maurice Scott, Tony Scott’s son, who led the King Center for longer than anyone else in his 22-year tenure and spoke at a Tuesday press conference to announce the news.

“This is a campus of transformation,” added Maurice, now South Bend’s director of community initiatives. “A campus of liberation, where we’ll be able to liberate all of our people in this community to come and build and develop all along this corridor.”

This week:South Bend invites LaSalle Park residents to plan future of historically Black neighborhood

The specifics of South Bend’s plans to build new Dream Center

A photo rendering shows the two indoor basketball courts and an indoor walking track to be housed in the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center, which is expected to open in February 2025. Construction begins next month.

Delayed nearly 10 months and over two times costlier than planned, construction of the Dream Center at 1522 Linden Ave. was approved Tuesday morning by the Board of Public Works. It’s part of a $27.3 million investment that includes the Linden Avenue streetscape project. The city will add new sidewalks, street lights and street trees to revitalize the historically Black corridor.

At 40,000 square feet, the new building will be three times larger than its predecessor and offer a host of amenities, including an indoor playground, a commercial kitchen, an art studio, a video and music production room, and two indoor basketball courts. Outside the center, there will be more basketball courts as well as a playground and a splash pad.

South Bend Mayor James Mueller said the project cost swelled from a rough estimate of $10 million in July 2021 to $20 million as community members kept sharing new ideas. Paired with inflation in the price of building materials, the growing wish list resulted in a final price tag of $27,285,979.

A photo rendering shows the entryway to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center, which is set to open in February 2025.

The mayor made a big ask, South Bend Common Council President Sharon McBride said. “But there’s nothing too great to restore and transform neighborhoods.”

The city aimed for the center to open by summer 2024. But the day got pushed back with the departure of Venue Parks and Arts Director Aaron Perri this May and difficulty during the Public Works bidding process.

“We’ve tried to expedite the process a bit, but great things take time,” Jordan Gathers, the city’s new VPA director, said Tuesday. “With this new center, we are going to have a world-class hub of excellence. We are going to have a world-class hub of hope.”

A photo rendering shows a weight room planned in the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center, which is expected to open in February 2025.

Construction will be paid for with $15 million in South Bend taxpayers’ money — $8.9 million of which come from the Redevelopment Commission — as well as $11.85 million from the federal American Rescue Plan and $400,000 from the state, according to city data.

Mueller garnered applause and head nods from neighbors in attendance Tuesday when he shared that minority-owned businesses play a substantial role in the new development. 

The mayor said the city chose to work with minority-owned firms during the design process: Indianapolis-based Meticulous Design Architecture, Houston-based D.L.D Engineering and V.S. Engineering in La Porte. 

City data shows that 14.55% of the $24.5 million in construction work will go toward minority-owned subcontractors, which exceeds the goals set by the Board of Public Works based on the number of such firms in Indiana and one Michigan county.

Overseeing construction of the new center, the outdoor park and the Linden Avenue streetscape is Garmong Construction Services, a Terre Haute firm. The site is to be finished by February 2025, according to Lance Gassert, Garmong’s chief operating officer. Job trailers will start to spring up on site the first week of November.

50 years later, South Bend neighbors celebrate new life

Residents, including Martin Luther King Jr. Senior Men's Club member Mike Jackson, at left, applaud during an Oct. 24, 2023, ceremony announcing a construction timeline for the new Dream Center.

Fifty years ago, the first King Center opened on Linden Avenue after the closure of a neighborhood grade school for African American students. The Linden School blazed trails in the 1950s when it hired several Black teachers and staff members. 

But the ensuing decades have brought a decline in investment in the historically Black corridor. Empty storefronts sit quiet along Linden, their silence deepened by dozens of vacant lots nearby.

The only noise from the King Center since January has been the sound of the beloved building being torn down.

But Tony Scott clung to his memories, the same way he clung to his silver cane Tuesday as he heard the news. 

At community input meetings held over the past two years, Scott and fellow members of the west side’s Martin Luther King Jr. Senior Men’s Club kept dreaming of new possibilities for the center. 

The club has been meeting for nearly 40 years. Its older members remember well when King visited the pastor of nearby Greater St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church. Several attended Tuesday’s event in matching shirts.

“In this whole area, those buildings over there, memories were made,” club member Mike Jackson said, pointing toward Linden Avenue. “School here, memories were made. King center, memories were made. So now us as a club, the Martin Luther King senior men’s club, we have a dream for more memories.”

Many of the people in Scott’s memories were there Tuesday to celebrate.

There was McBride, president of the South Bend Common Council, who grew up across the tracks in LaSalle Park and would come over to run circles around the boys playing flag football, everyone agrees. (Maurice Scott said he seems to have forgotten this particular detail.) McBride went on to play college basketball and says the new center will provide other kids the same stepping stone.

South Bend Common Council president Sharon McBride jokes with Maurice Scott, South Bend's director of community initiatives and the longtime director of the King Center, at a ceremony Oct. 24, 2023, to announce the final construction plans for the building.

There was longtime councilwoman Karen White, who used to watch over Scott’s boys and have them in her house for supper and cookies. When crime near the King Center would cast a negative light over the area, Scott would look to White for guidance.

If the King Center was a good place for her sons, Scott figured, then it was a good place for his, too.

One of them, Maurice, became the center’s longest-serving director — not to mention a coach of top-notch girls basketball teams at Washington High School. His star player in his first year as head coach was Skylar Diggins, who’s also his stepdaughter. Maurice is now the Adams High School girls basketball coach.

At the end of the ceremony Tuesday, Maurice pulled his father in for a photo.

“So many people had doubts, put out lies,” Tony Scott said of the plans to build a new center. “Of course I always knew it would happen. I always knew it would happen.

“It’s just good to see it,” he added. “A lot of men and women have put their blood, sweat and tears in this neighborhood.”

Tony Scott, right, stands with George Jones at an Oct. 24, 2023, ceremony announcing the construction plans for the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center. Both men are members of South Bend's Martin Luther King Jr. Senior Men's Club.

Email South Bend Tribune city reporter Jordan Smith at JTsmith@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jordantsmith09

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site