Civil rights center reaches initial fundraising goal

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights reached its initial $76 million fundraising goal this week with the final coin in the kettle supplied by a $1 million gift from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

The center, slated to open in 2014, will house the Morehouse College collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers. It will tell the uniquely American story of the civil rights movement and the broader tale of international human rights.

Construction crews will soon be visible at the downtown site, near the World of Coke and the Georgia Aquarium, digging a hole for the foundation of the 42,000-square-foot structure.

Work has actually been under way for several days, but most of it has been underground, as workers re-routed data lines and other utilities, said the center’s CEO, Doug Shipman.

Now the construction activity will become visible, he said.

Shipman said the National Center for Civil and Human Rights will be constructed in three phases at a total cost of $100 million. The funds on hand will pay for the first phase, which will be completed in March 2014 and will open to the public in May of that year, he said.

The second phase will add another 10,000 square feet, including an accessible rooftop, and should open between 2018 and 2019 at a cost of $10 million, he said. The final phase will add a 9,000-square-foot auditorium that seats 250-300.

Fundraising doesn’t end with the physical plant, Shipman said. The center will seek another $3 million to $5 million to cover educational programs, a speaker series and a film series.

The Blank Foundation has given a total of $2.5 million to the center, and the wing of the facility devoted to the civil rights movement will be named after the Blank family. Only one other donor gave more, the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation, which gave the organization $5.5 million, Shipman said.

“One of the things we always wanted to accomplish was to have all our funding up front before we started in earnest, because we wanted to know we could finish,” he said.

Shipman said crews will be excavating and building retaining walls this month, and will begin pouring the foundation in early April.