shirley_gibson_and_betty_ferguson_web_fc.jpgMiami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson has often said that her city deserves “first class or The city’s new $14,650,000 million recreational complex is the latest example of what she means.

The sprawling 56,000-square-foot facility at 3000 NW 199th St. took two years to build and is named for former County Commissioner Betty T. Ferguson, a Miami Gardens resident who was instrumental in the city’s 2003 incorporation. The city spent $3 million on equipment and furnishings. nothing at all.”  

The center officially opened its doors to hundreds of eager residents on Sept. 25. Center Director Christine Carney led the first of several tours through the complex that houses a state-of-the-art fitness center, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, an auditorium, a computer lab, an art room, classrooms and meeting rooms available for rental.

Some 25 people entering the fitness center on opening day, they were clearly impressed. “This is my baby,” Carney said of the spacious, mirrored area loaded with fitness equipment. “To hear you guys 'ooh and ahh' is very gratifying.”

A fitness management program will operate the fitness center which will also offer aerobics classes and personal training. The cardio machines are all equipped with cable-ready television sets. Aerobics and other fitness classes will be held in an exercise room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors adjacent to an outdoor garden which is visible from the room through the unobstructed full-length windows.

The City Council has set membership fees that are comparable to rates at national fitness centers, with daily rates of $4.67 and a six-month enrollment costing $150. All areas of the complex are available for rental in a move by the city to generate revenue during the tough economic climate that has municipalities scrambling to find money.

Funding for the complex was made possible by the Office of Safe Neighborhood Parks, Better Building Communities General Obligation Bond, Quality Neighborhood Improvement Program, NFL Youth Football Fund, Miami-Dade County and city funds.

Daniel Rosemond, assistant city manager, has an explanation for critics who question whether this was the best use of money during these harsh economic times.

“In the time of economic downturn that we’re experiencing now, a facility of this magnitude and of this type is what the community needs,” Rosemond said. “We thought that this was a treasure for the community. It was a site that had been undeveloped for many, many years.”

Rosemond answered another criticism: whether residents should pay to use a city-owned facility.

“Although there may be a few naysayers who say that ‘we shouldn’t have to pay,’ the overwhelming majority understand that in order to be able to have a facility of that magnitude, there should be a fee and there should be a way to control who goes in and their conduct in the facility.”

During the opening day tour, a resident questioned whether security would be sufficient to prevent unruly visitors from damaging the center. Carney said the facility was vandalized prior to its opening but security cameras were instrumental in capturing the culprits.

“It was actually three young girls under the age of 15. We have our cameras up. We can view the whole area. We can view the camera and see who they are,”  Carney said. “They’re not allowed to return to the facility for a certain period of time.”

Arlonia Davis, a retired community mental health specialist, said she had been looking forward to the center for a long time. “I plan to come over here and use that exercise gym, all that pretty equipment,” she said. “It’s awesome… I think it’s beautiful.”

Valencia Ferguson, three of her children and her mother Nettye Bryant attended the opening ceremony.  The family intends to use the facility often. “Right now, we’re looking at the pool, gymnasium and martial arts classes,” Ferguson said.

Bryant, plans to join the water aerobics classes “to help my legs.”

Ferguson’s son Demetrius, 13, said he plans to shoot hoops in the gym. His brother Darrell, 11, is looking to slim down at the center. “I think it looks fun. [It will help me to ] start to lose weight,” he said Ferguson’s daughter, Nia Brandon, will leave the serious fitness efforts up to her brothers. The 9-year old said the facility is “awesome.” She is looking forward to using the pool and its slide.

Renee Michelle Harris may be reached at