The Clarence R. Kelly Community Center and Park opened its doors on Sunday afternoon at a City of Gainesville event that also culminated the city’s Juneteenth celebrations.
With watermelon, drinks, ice cream and fans to fight the heat, community members looked back at how the center developed and honored Kelly, who died in 2011.
City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker spoke during the ceremony, leading the crowd in cheers of “Clarence R. Kelly” and “Your legacy lives on.” She said the community has waited for the project to finish for a long time.
She called Kelly tall in both stature and spirit.
“One of the reasons that so many of us have gathered out here today, one of the reasons that so many folk are still traveling here today, one of the reasons that there are folks who couldn’t make it but are sitting home and celebrating with us from afar today is because of the giant that Clarence R. Kelly was,” Duncan-Walker said.
Kelly served as director of the Northeast Recreation Center off of NE 8th Avenue for 35 years. The center, known as “the blue building” began in 1977 from a converted grocery store. Now, the renamed center has a new, $2.3 million facility to call home.
The center features a kitchen, game room, computer lab, multipurpose room along with a playground, lighted basketball courts and a community garden.
Charlene Kelly, the wife of Clarence Kelly, said her husband would visit the center on off days to make sure nothing inappropriate was happening on the property and would get to work early to pick up trash around the site.
“Kids don’t need to see nothing on the ground that would harm them,” Charlene said, quoting her husband.
She said Clarence made the building safe for anyone who came.
Creating the new facility started with Alachua County’s Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) surtax in 2012. Community members placed the center on a list of projects for the surtax to fund.
Carla Lewis previously chaired Alachua County’s WSPP Citizen Oversight Board. She told the crowd on Sunday that she joined the board to ensure the Kelly Center project survived.
“We can advocate and we can march, but until we occupy these spaces where decisions are being made, we are not going to influence anything in our community,” Lewis said.
And once the center held its groundbreaking, Lewis said she sent in her resignation from the board.
Besides the public park, the center will be used for after school and summer programming. Neighbors can also rent the space as a gathering place.
Construction on the site started in April 2021.