New community center honors pastor’s legacy



ASHEVILLE – In an atmosphere of cheers, love and celebration, the City of Asheville on Thursday night dedicated its newest community recreation space, The Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center, in recognition of a great local leader and an historic cultural neighborhood.

The center was standing-room only as city leaders, community partners and many members of the Grant family gave thanks for the collaborations that made the event possible.

It is the first community center built in the city since the Montford Center in 1974.

No one was more excited than the Rev. Louis Grant, who was overjoyed to dedicate “something in the legacy of my dear old dad.”

Louis Grant opened the evening’s dedication by asking everyone to give a rousing cheer — which they did.

“Now we see a big, bright light in the Southside community,” he said. “Lord God, we say thank you for this celebration.”

Wesley Grant, Sr. was a prominent leader in Asheville’s African American community during the Civil Rights era and Asheville’s urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s. He founded the Worldwide Missionary Baptist Tabernacle Church in 1959 and served there for nearly 50 years.

He was born Jan. 31, 1915 in Sumter, S.C. and was a resident of Asheville for 75 years. He died in early 2007, leaving a legacy that included not only building a strong family at home and at church, but also working to achieve strides such as the election of Ruben Daley as the first African American Asheville city council member in 1969.

He attended Shaw University Extension Classes, Shaw University Summer Convention Classes, and received Honorary Doctorates from Covington Theological Seminary and Emmanuel Theological Seminary.

The center’s name also recognizes the Southside community, a large geographic area that once surrounded the new center. Southside was a predominately African American community of businesses, churches and neighborhoods that were for the most part demolished during Asheville’s urban renewal.

It is also the city’s first LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “green building,” demonstrating city government’s commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

“Our city council had the vision and foresight to want to build a center that not only serves the community, but that is also a model of sustainability,” said Roderick Simmons, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts.

Some of the LEED features include a green roof, geo-thermal heating and cooling, storm water runoff management, and natural interior lighting. During construction, more than 75 percent of all construction waste was diverted from the landfill and recycled.

Mayor Terry Bellamy officiated Thursday’s event, noting many of the people who made this first phase of the center, the Cultural Art phase, a reality.

“Everybody who gave any money, any talent, any time – I want to recognize everybody who gave to this effort. I’m proud of you,” she said.

The Cultural Art phase of the center is 7,897 square-feet and features an auditorium, three classrooms, office space, storage, and parking.

The Physical Activity Phase will be constructed next and will include a gymnasium, a spray ground, playground, and a section of the Town Branch Greenway.

The Community Phase will be the final piece of the project and will include space for community partner operations.

Future phases will be constructed as funding becomes available.

The center was designed by Mathews Architecture, P.A. and built by H&M Constructors.

The $2.9 million center construction was funded by a number of contributors including the Eaton Charitable Fund, Glass Foundation, Janirve Foundation, Junior League of Asheville, the Raise the Roof at the Reid Community Campaign and the City of Asheville. Construction of the new center matches priority goals for each funder in that it serves children and their families, and provides a strategic public facility for the Asheville community.

During the dedication ceremony, Geoff Ferland, of the Asheville Parks and Greenways Foundation, presented city leaders with a check for $2,075 in personal donations from foundation members to kickstart the “splashpad” element of the Physical Activity phase.

Mildred Nance-Carson, chair of The Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center’s board, thanked attendees for sharing in the event.

“I’m so glad to see you all, but even more glad to see each and every one of the Grant family,” she said. “We are here to honor a man who set a foundation not only for his family, but for the many families he touched. We worked hard for this.”

To view more photos from the dedication, click here.

*Top photo credit:

Photo credit: Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, UNC Asheville Ramsey Library

Rev. Wesley Grant, Sr:  bhcP77.