As a 16-year-old teenager, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed used to walk to the old Martin Luther King Jr. Natatorium to cool off when he got off from work as a tennis instructor at nearby Camp Best Friends.
When he arrived, Kwanza Hall was probably there already. Now a city councilman for the district where the pool is located, back then he was a 16-year-old lifeguard.
Which is why the 2012 decision to close the pool – located on Boulevard, in the heart of the King District — was such a tough one for him and other city officials. And it’s why they hail the new $23.5 million, 63,000-square-foot Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation and Aquatic Center that will open in late 2017.
“We don’t lose assets with the name Martin Luther King on them,” Reed said. “We actually come back and build them better. And we build them stronger.”
The new, two-story building will be located next door to Selena S. Butler Park across the street from the King Memorial MARTA station at 110 Hilliard St., on land that was donated by the Atlanta Housing Authority.
It’s a few blocks from the original site, but still serves the Auburn Avenue/King District.
The new pool is part of a $250 million Renew Atlanta Bond, passed in March of 2015 and designed to improve the city’s infrastructure. City Council approved the pool in January 2016.
“We are here to make history, keep promises and build our future,” Reed said. “And when you go to this facility, it is not just going to be good. It is going to take your breath away.”
Atlanta’s oldest natatorium, the original pool was built in 1978 and closed after structural issues discovered.
A report from Atlanta-based Civil Services found the swimming pool facility would be structurally unsound in the event of seismic activity or wind gusts of 90 mph.
It is now in the process of being torn down – although the King Recreation Center next door remains open.
“As soon as we found out, we closed it,” said Amy Phuong, commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation. “It would have cost more money to fix it. And given the opportunity, we wanted to build more than a pool.”
Phuong said the new Aquatic Center will house a 25-yard lap pool, a leisure pool, fitness and weight rooms, a multi-use event area that can accommodate 200 people, recreation classrooms, a senior center, a multi-purpose gymnasium, an indoor walking and jogging track, a lounge and workroom area, a computer lab, locker rooms and recreation staff offices.
Renew Atlanta General Manager Faye DiMassimo said this is the first big project from the 2015 bond.
“This is one of the signature pieces,” she said. “It’s clearly a commitment by the city and the leadership to enhance our infrastructure, to support our economic vitality and support the quality of life for the citizens of Atlanta.”
The center will also serve as an Atlanta Police Department substation.
The original pool “was just an indoor pool, with a small crammed fitness room and that was it,” Phuong said. “There was no space for community meetings. It had no other purpose.”
When completed, the new facility will be the fourth indoor pool in the city, joining Adamsville, Rosel Fann and Washington Park.
“You are talking about a $20 million facility in the middle of downtown, close to the MARTA and the streetcar,” said Nigel Murphy, director of the current King Recreation center. “That is going to play a role major role in this community.”
Murphy said that he now has about 150 kids in his summer camps. With no pool in the neighborhood, he is forced to take groups of kids to Candler, Grant or Piedmont parks for swimming.
“You try to take a bunch of kids on a bus to a pool,” Murphy said. “This new facility will be better for the kids.”