The Friends of the Black Lens is in the early stages of planning to remodel a building the nonprofit owns in the East Central neighborhood, says Sandy Williams, editor and publisher of Spokane-based independent news publication The Black Lens.
The building will be called the Carl Maxey Center, in honor of well-known Spokane civil rights attorney Carl Maxey, Williams says.
The Friends of the Black Lens, which is dedicated to empowering Spokane’s African-American community, raised $375,000 to buy the century-old building and an adjoining lot in August. The group envisions a community space that will focus on cultural enrichment, economic and workforce development, social and racial justice, and educational opportunities, she says.
“It’s going to be a space that’s open for everybody, but it’s going to be sort of uniquely presented through the lens of the African-American community,” she says.
The nonprofit has met with Spokane architect Patsy O’Connor, who designed the Saranac Building and the Main Market Cooperative. O’Connor is in the process of drawing up preliminary plans based on community input, Williams says.
The building, at 3112-3118 E. Fifth Ave., currently has four commercial units, including two most recently occupied by an auto repair garage and a fellowship hall. Williams says the Friends of the Black Lens hopes to transform the four discrete spaces into meeting rooms, a stage, office spaces, and a technology space.
Because changes to the building have not yet been finalized, Williams says the cost of the work has yet to be determined, but she expects renovations will cost at least $700,000. She says she’s not yet sure where the funding for the remodel will come from.
“We raised the money ourselves to purchase the property through private donations and foundations,” Williams says. “I think at the end it’ll be a combination of a lot of things, but I’m not sure how that’s going to play out.”
She says, the nonprofit wants to retain the building’s character.
“We’re going to … try to keep the feel of it, because it fits with the neighborhood,” she says. “But we want to update it.”
Williams says that if all goes according to plan, remodeling work will begin in March and be completed in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2020.
“This is a part of an ongoing revitalization for what’s a really important part of the community that has been neglected a little bit,” she says. “Our hope with the remodel of this building is that we’re a part of this sort of energy around uplifting East Central, specifically that Fifth Avenue corridor.”
Carl Maxey was an African-American civil rights attorney and activist, who graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1951 and spent most of his life in Spokane. He often handled controversial and high-profile cases, including one in which he helped Eugene Breckenridge to become the first African-American teacher in the Spokane school district. Maxey died in Spokane in 1997 at age 73.
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