First step for Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place

Mary Sue Rich tosses a shovel full of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony for the City of Ocala Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place in northwest Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. Rich was a longtime Ocala City Councilwoman; Ruth Reed was the power behind getting the Royal Oak Charcoal Plant torn down, which is where the center is being built. The 41,750-square-foot, two-story building will include designated indoor space for senior, youth and family programs; a banquet/event space; fitness equipment and indoor walking track; two full basketball courts; a library and multi-purpose studio rooms. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted January 28, 2021 | By Brendan Farrell, Ocala Gazette

Mary Sue Rich tosses a shovel full of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony for her namesake community center on Thursday.  [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

For 30 years, the space occupied by the Royal Oak charcoal plant was considered a blemish on the community. On Thursday, it became a place of hope for the future.

Residents rejoiced during the groundbreaking of the new Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place.

The location at 1812 NW 21st Ave., which once belched out soot that sprinkled nearby neighborhoods will soon be home to a 41,750-square-foot, two-story community center.

Dozens gathered on Thursday for the ceremony and cheered as shovels dug into the ground for the first time.

The old plant was more than just an annoyance. Local citizens fought against the plant for years, blaming it for health problems and pollution.

The plant closed in 2006, and the space sat unused until the old plant was finally demolished in 2018.
On Thursday, the old worries were replaced with the anticipation of hearing the sounds of children playing.

Instead of a black eye on the community, families will be able to gather together at the site.
The estimated $10.3 million community center is named after Mary Sue Rich, the first Black woman elected to the Ocala City Council. She served for 24 years before retiring in 2019.

“I gratefully receive this prestigious honor,” Rich said. “I am overwhelmed in the impact that my life, my passion and my purpose has left on the hearts of so many.”

The community center also honors Ruth Reed, who fought against the plant for years as the president of the Neighborhood Citizens of Northwest Ocala.

“We want to truly thank Ms. Reed,” Geneva Young said on behalf of Reed. “We went to many meetings, had many things, but she never gave up, she kept on fighting. Ms. Rich kept fighting for us, and we thank God for the opportunity to stand here today and say thank you to the city for allowing this to take place where we have an opportunity to come and enjoy.”

The community center will feature two indoor basketball courts, a banquet center, a kitchen, a café and a multi-level indoor playground on the first floor. Additionally, the second floor will have an open-concept design with an indoor walking track, fitness center, public library, senior activities and multi-purpose rooms for children. Other amenities include an outdoor playground and lawns.

The city is putting up $8 million through a self loan. The money will come from reserves in the general, electric and water resources funds. The 20-year loan has a 2% interest rate.

The other $2.3 million, will come from the Marion County Hospital District, which committed the money last July.

Construction should take about a year.

“We’re just grateful and thankful that the city of Ocala had chosen to honor her in such a way,” Frank Rich, Mary Sue Rich’s son, said.

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