The Central City Community Center celebrated its 40th birthday on Saturday with the community, featuring activities, live entertainment and food.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon shot baskets, then played one-on-one basketball with staff members after touring the facility, 615 S. 300 East.

"I took a few basketball shots. I was one for 15," he said. "I spend more time being mayor than playing basketball."

He said Central is one of the original recreation centers of the 18 in the county system and would receive $3.2 million to upgrade and expand.

The Great Basin Dixieland Band played live music while jugglers juggled pins, rings and balls. A clown made balloon animals, international dancers showcased traditional dances while martial artists broke boards with their hands and feet and practiced sword fighting and dogs attended obedience class.

Martin Jensen, Salt Lake County's director of marketing, said the center was built using private and public funding on land donated in 1968 .

It offers youth recreation programs, adult education classes, a computer lab, a workout facility, AA meetings and a place for low-income children to eat.

"There's about 150 free meals given out every evening to kids," Jensen said.

He also said the center will offer a summer lunch program.

But the center isn't just for kids.

"There are a lot of adults downtown that don't have Internet access," he said. "They can come come here to pay bills or get information."

The center is also used for sports.

"The police officers from Salt Lake City love to come in here and play basketball," Jensen said.

He said it's not a traditional recreation center.

For instance, it offers classes in Shotokan karate. Instructor Amaidou Niang said he wants to teach his students discipline and respect as well as the craft.

"Most people think karate is about violence — but it's not," Niang said. "It's about many things."

Niang had his students demonstrate by breaking boards. Most broke the boards with fists, though some splintered the wood with their feet.

"These are real boards," he said, showing a student's skinned knuckles.

Kenny Hays has seen the benefits of the center. His son and daughter have enrolled in Shotokan for about four years. He said karate has kept his daughter off drugs and helped focus his son's energy. If one of the children strays or gets bad grades, Niang will postpone class or promotions until the child refocuses.

Another program is Kendo sword fighting. Instructor Jin Kang said his main goal is to teach students concentration and control of the bamboo swords.

"It's really good for the kids," Kang said.

Maggie Aloia, program manager for the center, said her office has been planning the celebration for a year, which took many hours and a lot of volunteers.

"I think the community really utilizes the center and so I hope we can continue to be an asset to our community," she said.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com