Monroe City Councilman Eddie Clark took up a passionate stance against the closure of the B.J. Washington Center at Tuesday night’s Monroe City Council meeting. Mayor Jamie Mayo told the meeting’s attendees that the city is facing a $4 Million deficit and that the southside center won’t be the only thing cut from operation. He said that although people are complaining about the closure of the building, the numbers don’t add up and when he looks at how much revenue is generated at the building, it doesn’t match the number of people in an uproar.
Earlier this week, the city’s new Community Affairs Director, Robert Johnson and Recreation Director Bruce Watson met with the staff and to deliver the news that the Washington Center was subject to closure. When this news hit social media, it immediately sparked an uproar from the residents of the community who use the center.
Clark said he spent time at the city’s recreation centers as a youth and knows what effect it has on the quality of life. He said he remembers going to the Marbles Recreation Center and giving Mrs. George .25 cents to use a basketball or a pool stick.
“And when we brought the ball back, we got our quarter back,” said Clark.
“The citizens of South Monroe will not continue to be recipients of broken promises and treated like step children,” Clark said.
Clark said that he finds it odd that the city claims to be serious about finding solutions to decrease violence but would choose to shutdown a community center.
“It’s more than just closing down a center. You’re actually closing down a lighthouse, a place that has been there. I remember when it was the Tri-District Boys Club and the city took it over. It has had a tremendous impact on the community. I find it hard to fathom that we say that we’re serious about fighting crime on one hand, yet we’ll look to close a center on the other hand. That’s something that we really have to think about because when you look at your recreation centers, they were never designed to be a money making thing,” Clark said.
Clark warned that if the path that the administration is taking continues, he would take legal action to keep the center from being closed.
“I will exhaust everything in my power, respectfully, to keep it open. If closure is still on the table, don’t get discouraged because that’s not the last option. I will have no alternative but to go to court to keep this open. I’m going to exhaust everything for the constituents that I represent because it’s important. We can’t ask you to vote when something comes up on a ballot to renovate something at the Civic Center yet we don’t take care of our own in our own neighborhoods,” Clark said.
Mayo said that when the city took over operations at the center, it was not in good condition. Originally, it was operated by the Boys & Girls Club. He said that it does not fall under the guidelines as the other community centers in Monroe. If residents want to use the facility, they must pay a fee. According to his records, there are not enough people paying to use the facility to maintain its operation.
“The B.J. Washington Center was sitting vacant for a while, before the city repurposed it as a community boxing and fitness facility. Over the years, we have invested time, manpower, and a lot of money for its operations. As I do every year, I ask our department heads and administrative teams to review efficiency and various ways we can reduce expenses and increase revenues,” Mayo responded to Clark. He said the figures don’t add up.
“During the review, it was discovered that the BJ Washington Center only generated slightly more than $1,000 in revenue during the past fiscal year. However, it cost just over $100,000 to operate,” Mayo said. He said that when the figures are calculated, the city is placed in a $103,554 yearly operating deficit.
“I’m sorry to say this, but if the B.J. Washington Center has been as heavily utilized as you say, the figures would show it,” Mayo said.
He said that the city plans to continue providing a fitness center, but not at B.J. Washington. He said the only viable option is to relocate the fitness equipment to another community center where the public will have free access to continue their workouts and fitness training. The mayor said that the B.J. Washington facility would then be available for residents to rent for events.
The mayor said that he will re-evaluate the usage of the facility to see if there is any change.
“I wanted to make sure we communicate the factual part of what is going on with the center. This administration has a history of providing services and trying to make sure we are fiscally strong, which we are,” he said.
Before he completed his comments on the matter, he turned to Councilman Clark and took issue with him using the Civic Center as a card in his argument.
“Everytime there’s an issue and you use the Arena, I think that’s a cheap shot,” the mayor commented.