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ATL Business Chronicle

MLK III’s $100 million plan to upgrade the King Center

By Maria Saporta
Friday, January 13, 2012

In the 20 months that Martin Luther King III has been president and CEO of The King Center, he has been putting together a $100 million investment package for a major renovation of the 30-year old facility as well as plans to preserve his father’s legacy for generations to come.

King will disclose those plans and his recent accomplishments during the Salute to Greatness dinner on Jan. 14 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, an annual highlight of the King Day festivities and celebration as well as the top fundraiser for the Center. The birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. is Jan. 15, and the national holiday is Jan. 16.

This follows a recent change in leadership at the King Center. On Thursday, Jan. 5, in a conference call, the Center’s board of trustees appointed Bernice King as its new CEO. Dexter King will remain as its chairman. And Martin King will continue as president.

Over the years, there has been friction within the family over the Center’s management, and it remains to be seen if this move is further evidence of a power struggle.

The release announcing the change stated: “The board’s action will strengthen the office of the president to more effectively address external affairs on behalf of the King Center and enable the office of the chief executive officer to more efficiently focus on the King Center’s internal administrative matters.”

While it is premature to know what impact that leadership change will have, King III said the board of mostly family members has been involved in putting together the investment plan to renovate the center and that he expects them to “remain in place.”

King III returned to the King Center as its president and CEO in the spring of 2010, when he and his team began to assess the financial and physical condition of the facilities and its archival documents and artifacts.

After a thorough review, it was determined that the Center and its Freedom Hall complex needed to undergo an extensive renovation. It also needed to preserve and digitize its historical collection of papers and memorabilia. It sought to expand its educational and training programs. And it wanted to establish an endowment that would help make the Center financially sustainable.

That led to the launch of a $100 million investment package for “A King Center for the Future,” which outlines the multifaceted plans to modernize the offerings of one of Atlanta’s top tourist destinations.

“We have not done a major renovation in 30 years,” Martin King said of the Center, which opened in 1982. Today, the structures and the grounds are in great need of repair.

King III’s mother, Coretta Scott King, had started the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in 1968 following the assassination of her husband.

“One of the most important things my leadership brought to the table was rebuilding a coalition with the business community, the religious community, elected officials and others,” King III said in a two-hour interview on Jan. 10.

“We have wanted to re-engage the community with us on the futuristic plans to not just renovate the old structure, but to build a new structure,” he said. “The goal is to provide a premium and broader visitor experience and for people to be on the property for a longer period of time.”

The Center has been working with architects on a new building, with underground parking, to be located behind the reflecting pool and the crypts of King III’s parents.

The plans, which are “not set in cement,” call for new exhibits, a gift shop, a bookstore, dining facilities, an expanded plaza and re-landscaping the open area. King III said it is likely the reflecting pool would be reduced in size so the plaza could be expanded and because it is expensive to maintain a water feature.

King III also said he would love for the renovation to include the latest in technology to enhance the visitor’s experience. “It would be very exciting to have a holographic image of Mom and Dad and for them to be able to have a conversation with the visitors,” he said.

The capital campaign effort has been in “the very early stages,” partly because the building of the recently-opened King Memorial in Washington, D.C., “was sucking all the oxygen” in the fundraising arena, King III said.

But that has not stopped the Center from embarking on its ambitious program to preserve its historical documents.

“We have had this jewel of a collection forever — the largest collection of artifacts and documents on the Civil Rights Movement with more than one million,” King III said. “We knew we needed to figure out a way to make them available forever.”

In August 2011, the King Center and JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced the “King Center Imaging Project,” that would digitize more than 1 million documents from the King family and the Civil Rights Movement and the creation of a website that would make all the materials available to the public.

King III said JPMorgan’s contributions represent up to a $10 million investment in the Center. “This is one of the greatest projects I believe for the King Center making us relevant for the 21st Century,” King III said. “It gives us access to a new generation and to generations yet unborn. This is important, not just for our nation, but for the world.”

In addition to the digitalization project, King III has been working with other partners to help put the Center on a stronger financial footing.

“We had legacy debt when I arrived of close to $2 million,” King III said, adding that they have been able to refinance much of that debt as well as get some lenders to forgive their loans. “I know we have erased between $700,000 and $800,000 of the debt and refinanced much of the rest.”

At the same time, King III said he has brought in a professional executive team that includes Robert Adams, who has been serving as the Center’s chief operating officer.

In preparation of the capital campaign, King III said he has been building partnerships with other corporations, including Target Corp., Hyundai and Wells Fargo & Co. The goal would be to have three or four leading CEOs who would be able to raise the funds to renovate the center, expand its programming and build an endowment co-chair the campaign.

“One of my mother’s greatest regrets was that she was not able to endow the center,” King III said.

At the Salute to Greatness dinner, King III said, he plans to talk about the Center’s future and its plans, although he said he is “not 100 percent sure” of what his role will be.

“The institution is going to always be relevant and vitally needed as long as there is poverty, militarism and racism in our world,” King III said. “I believe deeply in the mission of the King Center; and regardless of where I am or what I do, I’m going to continue to work on that.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Burroughston Broch January 16, 2012 6:46 am

    The King Center’s primary purpose is to provide income for the King descendants, primarily the King children. It will never provide enough income to satisfy their sense of entitlement.

    The King family has not managed the Center well and has been bailed out on a couple of occasions, most notably by the National Parks Service (our tax dollars at work). Now it appears that another bail out (oops, investment) is in the works.

    As long as only non-governmental investors are involved, I have no problem.

    Governmental funds going into the King’s pockets are different. A prime example is the Streetcar that is intended solely to move tourists between Centennial Park and the Center. If further governmental funds are promised, I will publicly oppose this squandering of public funds and, I suspect, so will many others.Report

  2. Visitor April 16, 2012 9:56 pm

    I visited the King Center today and was shocked and embarrassed at the shabby appearance of the crypt and reflecting pool.  Very sad.Report

    1. Burroughston Broch April 17, 2012 12:59 pm

      That’s the result of lack of fiscal responsibilty. Money that should have been used to maintain the Center has been put to ther uses.Report


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