City Paper is not for tourists
The Howard Road Academy just opened its middle school in the old Carver Theatre building.
Earl Murray, president of the Howard Road Academy’s board of trustees, says the public charter school paid “just under $3 million” this summer to buy the building at 2405 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.“We’re very happy to be there,” says Murray. “It’s a great location.”
The Good Samaritan Foundation previously owned the site, in the heart of Anacostia’s business district. That’s a nonprofit group founded in the 1990s by former Redskins greats Art Monk and Charles Mann.
Monk and Mann had taken control of the property from the District government in 2001, based on pledges to open a community center that, they said, would provide job training and other services to high-school-aged kids in the neighborhood.
Monk and Mann never followed through. Now, after years of insisting the opening of the center was imminent, they’ve bailed on the project, selling the building for more than 10 times what they paid the city for it.
The news that Monk and Mann sold the theater came as a big surprise to Phil Pannell. He helped Monk and Mann obtain the building. “Are you serious? A charter school?” Pannell said when I told him about the sale. “Oh, that is so unfair. Now, it’s another charter school? That is heartbreaking.”
Arrington Dixon, an Anacostia native and former D.C. councilmember who likewise had worked with the ex-Redskins, was similarly wounded by the news.
“All I know is that we supported the Redskins when they told us this was going to be a community center, something to deal with the issues on the avenue,” Dixon says. “We were supposed to buy into the dream. And then they change the dream on everybody?”
Pannell, a longtime Anacostia activist, and Dixon, head of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, were the lead organizers of the 1999 meeting at Birney Elementary School where Monk and Mann first told a crowd of about 300 local residents that they planned to open a training center in Anacostia, long one of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.
The people of Anacostia weren’t the only ones who bought into Monk and Mann’s vision, however. The city did, too. With lobbying help from Pannell and Dixon, the Good Samaritan Foundation was given a lease on the city-owned Carver Theatre site in June 2001.
After getting control of the building, Mann released a statement thanking believers from the corporate world, including “Accenture, Clark Construction, the Freedom Forum, Association of Builders and Contractors, Ford Foundation, and Equalfooting.com,” who were helping him and Monk “take the first steps towards making the Training Center a reality.”
In October 2001, the Good Samaritan Foundation announced it had begun construction and that the center would be ready by September 2002. Neither of those deadlines were met. Not even close.
I first visited the Carver Theatre site in early 2006, five years after the city had turned control of the property over to Monk and Mann. A tattered banner hung from the old marquee declaring the building as the “Future Home of the Anacostia Good Samaritan Foundation Training and Outreach Center.” But there was no evidence that any construction had ever taken place.
The lot was reduced to a dumping ground, with pallets of soft-drink bottles and garbage bags among the tall weeds. Loser lottery tickets, sardine cans, and all other sorts of street trash were everywhere. The whole site smelled like urine. Again, Monk and Mann had controlled the site for five years at this point.
I called Mann back then; he seemed humbled by the failure to follow through. But he insisted that everything was finally in place and said the renovation would cost $2.3 million.
Going by the fundraising publicized by the Good Samaritan Foundation, Monk and Mann’s charity should have had that much in the bank by then. In November 2000, for example, Monk and Mann announced a group led by Andersen Consulting and Clark Construction had “committed $1 million” toward the training center. Also in 2000, a press release said that the group’s annual golf tournament brought in $120,000, and the same event a year later put another $100,000 into the coffers and could be “used for a new training and outreach center for the group.” And the federal budgets for fiscal 2003 and 2004 each granted $775,000 to Monk and Mann “to acquire and renovate a building to expand outreach and mentoring services to at-risk District of Columbia youths.”
In December 2004, the D.C. Council passed a resolution to sell the Carver Theatre building to the Good Samaritan Foundation. According to property records, Good Samaritan paid the city $255,235 for the site.
Before selling the Anacostia site to the charter school, Monk and Mann changed the name of their nonprofit to “Youth Power Center.” And they didn’t disclose the sale to neighborhood leaders, say Pannell and Dixon.“This isn’t what you’d call transparent,” says Dixon.
So, what went wrong? Requests for interviews made with the Youth Power Center headquarters were directed to Mindy Lyle, a board member who says she has worked with Monk and Mann on the Anacostia project since 1999. Lyle says the training center pledges went unfulfilled because of a smorgasbord of unforeseen obstacles: the economic downturn, increased construction costs, and red tape caused by the D.C. bureaucracy. “People stopped giving,” she says. “And we couldn’t afford to keep that building.”
Lyle says there’s a villain in the training center debacle, and it’s not Monk or Mann.
“It’s Tony Williams,” she says. “Marion Barry was on board. He wanted us in Anacostia; he wanted us to take that building. And then Tony Williams came in and one obstacle after another was thrown in our way.…If Marion Barry had stayed around a little longer, we’d have gotten this done.”
There is at least one serious flaw with Lyle’s account: Monk and Mann first told Anacostians they want to build a training center in the neighborhood in 1999; the foundation leased the Carver Theatre site from D.C. in 2001; it purchased the property outright from the city in 2004.
Tony Williams was elected mayor in 1998.
Also, no matter who was in office, Monk and Mann continued insisting up until they sold the building that they would live up to their promises to put a training center in Anacostia.
In December 2007, the Good Samaritan Foundation filed papers with a White House agency that promotes youth charities saying that the center would open in the spring of 2008. And Pannell says he was at a charity function earlier this year and saw Mann. “So I asked, ‘When is the center opening?’” Pannell says. “And Charles Mann said, ‘Oh, in about a month or two.’ That was this year! Now they sold it!”
Repeated requests to interview Monk and Mann made through Lyle went unanswered. Messages left with Kolar Bowen and John Hauser of the Bennett Group, identified as project managers for the Carver Theatre job, were not returned. Lyle says nobody involved with Good Samaritan profited from the Carver site’s sale. “All the money was owed on the building for work done, to pay off bonds, to the banks,” she says.
At best, that means that all donations made to the Good Samaritan Foundation through the years for the center, including the taxpayers’ contributions made through the federal government, were wasted.
Lyle confirms that Monk and Mann did not tell any Anacostia neighborhood leaders, including those that helped them acquire the Carver Theatre all those years ago, that they had sold the building. Asked why, Lyle says, “Because nobody asked.”
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