Residents look to transform Shawnee Park facility into community center

Thursday, September 21, 2017

South Cape Girardeau residents want to bring new programs to the city's Shawnee Park Center to transform it into a community center for the neighborhood.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is leading the effort in partnership with the Authentic Voices neighborhood group and others.

Local NAACP president Lloyd Williams said he and others want to turn the facility into a center that serves children and adults.

Williams said the goal is to provide recreational and educational programs that would be offered year-round at little or no cost to participants.

Proponents want the center to offer access to computers and other technology for neighborhood students and adults.

The proposal also calls for hiring neighborhood residents to work at the center.

At a meeting hosted Tuesday by Authentic Voices at the Shawnee Park Center, neighborhood residents suggested everything from after-school programs and exercise classes and art and music programs.

Other ideas include health fairs, and cooking and parenting classes.

Authentic Voices member Betty Mosley said the center needs to keep its basketball court, which has been used for various recreational-league games, and make it more widely available for neighborhood use.

Some residents suggested the city install outdoor basketball courts as an added amenity.

City officials viewed the $2 million Shawnee Park Center at 835 S. West End Blvd. as a community center when it opened in March 2011.

But neighborhood residents saw it differently.

City manager Scott Meyer said residents "didn't feel tied" to the facility.

"They didn't feel they had ownership in that," he said.

Williams said, "The idea of a recreational center was welcome, but it was not the community center that was envisioned as plans progressed -- a place modeled after the Cape Civic Center or the Family Resource Center.

Williams said the neighborhood needs a place for children "to gather, learn, play and be safe" as well as a facility for community meetings and social events.

The NAACP wants to bring new programs and classes to the Park Center in concert with a community advisory board in partnership with the city.

Williams said such an advisory board would provide "a connection" to the south-side community.

There have been a number of parks facilities erected over the years, but the southern part of the city was "always the municipal stepchild" and was "pretty much neglected" until the Shawnee Park Center was constructed, Williams said.

The Cape Civic Center served the south-side neighborhood, beginning in 1959.

Founded by a coalition of churches, civic organizations and city residents, the Civic Center was housed in an old warehouse on South Sprigg Street, Williams said.

Over the years, the center relocated several times. In 2001, the Civic Center organization merged with the local Boys and Girls Club.

To fill the void, the Family Resource Center was established in a former church on South Sprigg Street to provide after-school tutoring, a program for the elderly, summer camp and other services, according to Williams.

The Family Resource Center closed in 2011 because of lack of funding.

City manager Meyer said city officials are taking a look at possible programming changes at Shawnee Park Center.

It's a question of cost, he said, adding donations may be needed to defray some of the expense.

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