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    Memphis community welcomes Salvation Army Kroc Center with open arms on opening day

    Timberly Moore

    Photo by Kyle Kurlick // Buy this photo

    February 23, 2013 - (center) Catie Pierce climbs across the outdoor playground at the new Kroc Community Center. During an open house, members of the community were invited to tour the facilities, watch demonstrations of activities and sign up for memberships. (Kyle Kurlick/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

    The Peabody Ducks left their hotel home to open the Kroc Center with a morning march Saturday before R.J. Kroc arrived on the soccer field by helicopter.

    Andre Wharton, 35, said he was impressed.

    “I think the facility is just well done,” said Wharton, son of Memphis Mayor AC Wharton. “There is diversity as far as the activities.

    Wharton said this was his first trip to the center, but his wife signed the family up for membership on Friday. His three sons will enjoy all of the sports-related activities, Wharton said, while he and his wife exercise.

    “It’s just great to have all this right here in the center of the city,” said Wharton. “We really like that they offer child care. My wife and I are working individuals, and the fact that we can come here and work out as a couple is very meaningful.”

    Capt. Jonathan Rich, area commander for the Salvation Army, said the center will offer child care while parents work out, but would like for the families to be together and have quality time at the $31 million facility, which is located in the Fairgrounds and took eight years to plan, build and open.

    “Eight years later, to finally open the doors, it’s just great,” Rich said. “It’s wonderful that the community came out today to share our opening day with us and that they’re so excited about it.”

    Rich said there were 1,500 memberships purchased to the Kroc before Saturday, which he translates to include about 4,000 people because memberships can be sold as singles or households of four. Any extra members in the household could be included on the family plan for $10 per person.

    “Today is different,” said Rich. “Everyone is everywhere. To come (in the future) you’ll either have to be a member or be here for a program.”

    Rich said children from surrounding schools will be able to come for free in the after-school program. After Sunday’s formal 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting featuring both the Memphis mayor and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Rich said safety is the Kroc’s first order of business. The Kroc does background checks on those who apply for membership.

    “Security in Memphis is a big deal,” said Rich. “This is a very safe place. We have invested a lot of money into security.”

    Danger wasn’t even on 7-year-old Alise Williams’ mind as she stood poolside watching gallons of water pour from a tower into the aquatic activity center that includes a wading pool, challenge area and traditional swimming space.

    “I want to get in there,” Williams said. “The pool looks so fun. I want to do all the activities.”

    “Me too,” Kennedi Hinton, 5, agreed.

    Natasha Williams, Alise’s mother said, after seeing her daughter’s excitement for the facility and other parts, she was convinced to become a member.

    “It was a really nice work out room from what I could see,” said the elder Williams. “I’m excited.”