The city has tentatively secured $6.5 million in funding for long-awaited improvements at Martin Luther King, Jr. park, but work will likely take years to fully complete, officials said at a recent community meeting.

The final project will include repairs to the MLK Jr. Park swimming pool, restrooms and the community center.

The city recently held the final community input workshop at the MLK Jr. Community Center, where residents could weigh in on aspects of the renovation like having one or two basketball courts, a bigger playground or more picnic seating, various trail and walkway designs, and whether they wanted to keep the fence up around the park perimeter.

Erika Gilbreath, a director at Christ Second Baptist Church in District 6, said that despite the final plans, she ultimately wants to see the park become a safe community resource with programming that highlights health and wellness for the children that will eventually play in the park. “When I’m looking at recreation, I look at it from a holistic and wellness standpoint as well,” she said.

The amount of funding secured for the work is rare for a project at this stage, according to Eric Lopez, director of Public Works.

Nearly $2.5 million of the initial funding comes from Measure A, $700,000 comes from the city’s “Elevate 28” plan, which was approved in the city’s budget Tuesday night and includes 64 new initiatives ranging from park improvements, cultural center developments and water quality projects that the city hopes to complete before the 2028 Olympics. Another $1 million will come from park impact fees that are charged to developers of residential projects for every unit built and go toward maintaining the city’s parks.

The remaining $3 million is a federal earmark proposed by Congressman Robert Garcia that is awaiting approval, Lopez said.

Residents of the 6th District play a board game with a replicated map of Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Long Beach. Two teams collaborated on locations for new walkways, a basketball court, restrooms and beatification ideas for the park during the game.
Over a two-hour workshop that involved a board game simulation of Martin Luther King Jr. Park, teams of 10 at two tables deliberated on locations for new walkways, a basketball court, restrooms and overall TLC for the park using a faux pool of funding. Photo by Kat Schuster.

Residents near the park in Central Long Beach have long said the city has left the park to languish.

For over a year, the community, with help from City Fabrick, the city’s go-to nonprofit park consultant, and the Long Beach Alliance for Food and Fitness, has been involved in revisioning what the park could look like. The pair secured a $120,000 grant from the Resource Legacy Fund last year to create the vision plan.

These efforts to revitalize the park come after years of advocacy from community leaders and 6th Council District locals to restore it into what it once was—a place where programs and activities were abundant and where communities could thrive.

Sharon McLucas, 72, a life-long resident on District 6 who’s been involved in the visioning process from the beginning, said that she is cautiously optimistic about the revisioning process being a reflection of the Black community’s needs.

“I think it’s a start but I don’t see a lot of people that look like me that are working on it,” she said.