The Martin Luther King Center could get a commercial-grade kitchen that would be the center of new community and economic development opportunities through culinary practices, officials said.
Wilmington City Council will consider a resolution during its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday directing the city manager to pursue a joint community development project with the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and Community Enrichment Initiatives Inc. (CEI) to boost the center's current programming with a proposal that would renovate the kitchen inside the 11,375-square-foot MLK Center building at 401 S. Eighth St.
The effort has been in the works since 2016, when the USGBC’s Advance campaign began meeting with the city and CEI to improve the center’s kitchen, while assessing overall facility energy uses and identifying sustainable landscape practices at Robert Strange Park, according to city officials.
A commercial-grade kitchen became a priority with the goals to have a facility that enhances the center’s current youth programming, promotes job opportunities through food service training and culinary classes and provides space for entrepreneurial endeavors for start-up culinary businesses, according to the resolution
“Having a commercial kitchen would give the city the potential and the opportunity not to just increase educational and lifestyle programming, but in keeping with city council area of focuses of job training in lower-income areas of the city, the commercial kitchen has the potential to serve as a hub for culinary job training,” said Amy Beatty, community services director for the city of Wilmington.
According to the proposal, the center’s commercial kitchen would be used as an economic development tool available to both culinary startups and expanding food businesses. The kitchen would provide training opportunities in food handling and preparation, including training for programs partially funded by the city.
"So that if somebody had wanted to get into the food production business but they did not have the financial means to rent space for a commercial kitchen, potentially the kitchen would provide that service for them. And in that way, the kitchen would serve as an incubator," Beatty said.
Beatty said that if the kitchen were to be built, the community services department would be able to help develop job training with another area nonprofit. But such programming has yet to be developed, she added.
As a community development tool, the kitchen would provide food preparation classes and tastings, including cooking for special diets such as diabetes. Feast Down East and New Hanover Regional Medical Center, in collaboration with CEI, would support the kitchen with the programming, which will engage both youth and adults, according to the USGBC's proposal.
The project also includes a kitchen and meditation garden at the MLK Center as part of the master conceptual landscape plan for Robert Strange Park. The proposal indicates the garden would be used for training and other educational opportunities.
For the design of the kitchen, USGBC partner Dogwood Architecture provided the initial drawing for the concept, city documents show. Beatty said a full design has not yet been developed.
The new commercial kitchen under consideration would be located in the space of the old kitchen and the adjacent storage room. It would also include a teaching window that opens into an adjacent meeting space inside the center.
Plans call for assistance from local builders, grants and other funds raised through the CEI and any pro-bono services and in-kind donations offered by community partners. The kitchen would be the only incubator kitchen in the city and New Hanover County open to the public for use. The nearest similar incubator kitchen is located in Burgaw, according to city documents.
The former kitchen would be deconstructed with the plan to salvage old components and appliances to be used to improve the MLK Center’s Concession Building, behind the center near the swimming pool.
If City Council passes the resolution Tuesday, USGBC could begin to seek private funding for the project.