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West Ocala community center opens where a charcoal plant once spewed soot over African American homes

RuthReed.jpg
Joe Byrnes
/
WMFE News
Ruth Reed speaks at the grand opening of the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place in Ocala on Jan. 10, 2023.

Ocala celebrated the opening of a community center Tuesday on the site where a Royal Oak charcoal plant used to belch soot over the homes of African American residents.

And the city celebrated the extraordinary commitment of two women who drove that change.

Hundreds gathered in front of the new 41,750-square-foot two-story building at 1821 NW 21st Ave. It has a gymnasium, a branch library, a gathering place for seniors, a banquet hall and meeting rooms.

It's called the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place in honor of a longtime former City Council member and Ruth Reed, a West Ocala resident who fought the charcoal plant. It closed in 2006 after 30 years in operation.

City Manager Peter Lee said Rich and Reed are examples of persistence in the pursuit of positive change.

"In 2018, the city purchased this property," Lee said. "And later that year, in August, Mrs. Reed sat on top of a Yellow Cat excavator and knocked the first wall of that charcoal plant down."

RichAndReed.jpg
Joe Byrnes
/
WMFE News
Mary Sue Rich, left, and Ruth Reed greet visitors ahead of the grand opening of the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place in Ocala on Jan. 10, 2023.

Reed said it was only possible with God's help.

"Look at it now. No more Royal Oak! No more smoke! We can all breathe clean air," she said. "And this building, it is a miracle."

Ocala Community Center.jpg
Joe Byrnes
/
WMFE News
Hundreds gather for the grand opening of the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place in Ocala on Jan. 10, 2023.

The city says the community center's price tag was $10.3 million. That includes a $2.3 million grant from the Marion County Hospital District.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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