City & County

Plans for $2.5M park unveiled in Arkadelphia

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech poured from the loudspeaker in Arkadelphia as a crowd of about 75 people trickled into the future site of King’s namesake memorial park. 

Community leaders announced intentions Friday to secure $2.5 million in funding to develop the MLK Jr. Memorial Park, located at 15th and Pine streets, the site of the old Clark County Hospital. 

The 2.5-acre park is expected to include a 1/4-mile paved walking loop, Youth Empowerment Zone play area, splash pad, amphitheater adjacent to green gathering space, as well as a Civil Rights educational trail. All features of the elliptical park will lead back to the central greenspace. The  Youth Empowerment Zone will have two basketball courts, as well as playground equipment. The Civil Rights educational trail will include educational kiosks along the walking trail.

“This is a collective community, and that’s what this park is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about unity — those are the last five letters of ‘community.’

Dr. Fitzgerald Hill, King Park honorary co-chair

Noting the north-south slope of the property, Sally Horsey from Halff Associates said the site will not be flattened but that the park’s design will take advantage of the landscape. The entire park will be barrier-free and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said. Accessibility is one of the five “elements of purpose” for the park, as well as telling a story, coming together, empowering youth and being a place of peace. The vision is to have plaques and statues throughout the park, and murals on retaining walls that not only tell the story of King’s legacy but also to incorporate local history.

With space to accommodate 1,200 people, MLK Jr. Memorial Park will have “endless opportunities for coming together,” Horsey said, “whether it’s small or large gatherings.” It will be a “flexible site” for families, picnics, birthday parties, festivals, Movies in the Park, live bands and art shows.

Friday’s ceremony drew a crowd of about 75 Arkadelphia residents.

Horsey said the amphitheater will have a dual purpose in empowering youth — serving both as an outdoor education venue and splash pad — as will the Youth Empowerment Zone, which will include the ball courts and play area.

Finally, as a place of peace, the park will have seating for reflection, as well as flowers and landscaping for park-goers to appreciate and enjoy.

Total estimates for the project add up to $2.27 million, with the MLK Park Committee aiming to raise extra money for future maintenance and development.

Friday’s ceremony, emceed by City Manager Gary Brinkley, was a call to action for a campaign that expects to fund Phase 1-3 for complete park development. Leading this charge was Arkadelphia athletics icon Dr. Fitzgerald Hill, who is a co-chairman of the park committee along with Mitch Bettis. 

Hill outlined the fundraising campaign, with the goal to raise the money by King’s birthday in 2023 and hopes to hold a groundbreaking ceremony then.

He said $1 million of it will come from individual shares, tiered by collecting 5,000 $50 shares; 2,500 $100 shares; 500 $500 shares; and 250 $1,000 shares. Hill called the shares “dream stock you can cash in when you get to heaven.”

The remaining $1.5 million will come from corporations and foundations. Hill recognized Ouachita Baptist University president Dr. Ben Sells, who led with a kickoff gift of $50,000.

Dr. Fitzgerald Hill speaks to a crowd about how funds will be raised for the new park.

“This is a collective community,” said Hill, noting the doctors, educators and other professionals he grew up knowing in Arkadelphia. “And that’s what this park is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about unity — those are the last five letters of ‘community.’”

“You never grow in comfort,” Hill added. “Discomfort pushes us forward … We are one team for God’s dream.”

Tag-teaming the push for fundraising was DuShun Scarbrough, executive director of the Arkansas MLK Commission. Scarbrough commended those who spearheaded the effort to make the site a park. “Thanks to you, children will be able to carry the torch of peace and nonviolence and equality for all of mankind,” he said.

A process 12 years in the making, Arkadelphia Mayor Scott Byrd called Friday’s unveiling ceremony a “monumental time in our wonderful city.” Assistant Mayor Roland Gosey echoed those sentiments, adding that it is a “landmark milestone for the city of Arkadelphia. … Today marks the day of a new beginning.” The Rev. Llewellyn Terry, whose father marched with King during the Civil Rights movement, blessed the site with a word of prayer.

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