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Art Monk finally made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He earned a spot there long ago. Good for him that the wait’s over.
Not to take away from that honor, but while the spotlight’s on one of the area’s all-time sports heroes: There’s another project Monk’s been attached to even longer than his push to get in the Hall. And it remains unfinished.
For nearly seven years, the Good Samaritan Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group and youth charity Monk founded with fellow Redskins superstars, has leased or owned a building on a large plot of land at 2405 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, site of the old Carver Theater in Anacostia.
The charity was granted control of the property after Monk, then the charity’s president, and a gaggle of former teammates, including Charles Mann, Earnest Byner, and Tim Johnson, came to community meetings in Anacostia beginning in 1999. The local heroes pledged to leaders and residents that they would renovate the building and put it to the sort of use you’d expect from folks who call themselves Good Samaritans.
The plan, the residents were told, was to turn the site into a job-training center for disadvantaged high-school-aged kids from the neighborhood. The city negotiated a 20-year lease for the property with the Good Samaritan Foundation that was finalized in July 2001. At the time the lease was brokered, the charity announced that construction of the “safe haven for the community’s youth” would begin a month later.
But, all these years later, there’s still no training center.
The concept, however, has raised a lot of money. Among the bigger donations: $1 million from area benefactors, including Andersen Consulting and Clark Construction, which came in the fall of 2000. The Good Samaritan Foundation said at the time of that windfall that it would mean the training center would open in 2001.
Also that year, a check for $120,000 came in to the building fund from a charity golf tournament organized by Accenture; another $100,000 followed from the same company and tournament a year later.
Then the foundation got a federal grant of $500,000 in the 2003 federal budget, which, according to the legislation granting that sum, would be used “to acquire and renovate a building to expand outreach and mentoring services to at-risk District of Columbia youths.” The feds kicked in another $275,000 to the foundation for the training center construction project in the 2004 budget. Monk and Mann organized the Good Samaritan Bowl, an annual high-school all-star football game, to raise more funds.
About two years ago, I wrote in this same space about the foundation’s failure to follow through in Anacostia (“Slow to Develop,” 4/28/06).
Shortly afterward, the Good Samaritans put out a press release announcing a groundbreaking ceremony for the project, highlighting that Mayor Anthony A. Williams would join Monk and Mann to get things going.
This was at least the second groundbreaking ceremony announced by the foundation. The first such announcement came in October 2001. (In that one, the charity declared the training center would be open by the fall of 2002.)
The reality still seems to have as little as ever to do with the artist’s rendering of the site, which has for years been posted on the charity’s Web site.
There isn’t even a roof. A sign that said future home of the anacostia good samaritan foundation training and outreach center hung in 2006, but that’s gone now.
The lack of progress on the Carver Theater renovation is a big deal in the neighborhood. In March 2004, the D.C. Office of Planning released its Anacostia Transit Area Plan, which sought to take better advantage of the Metro stop. Among the list of “vital” steps in that plan: “Restore and reoccupy Carver Theater.” Later that year, the city sold the site to the Good Samaritan Foundation outright for $255,235.
Other proposed developments in the neighborhood have come to pass. A new office building has been constructed down the road at the Good Hope Road intersection. The Salvation Army held a groundbreaking ceremony in February 2007 for its Solomon G. Brown Corps Community Center, which will be a five-story structure housing administrative and retail operations and a job-training center a little to the north of the Carver Theater site, and that charity dove right into the project. Scaffolding from the Salvation Army site now dwarfs everything else in the neighborhood.
Yet the Carver Theater site has yet to bypass eyesore status.
Arrington Dixon has been following the inaction on the property for some time. Dixon grew up right behind the Carver Theater and as a youngster went there on its opening day as a movie house in 1950. After a long career in D.C. politics, he now chairs the Anacostia Coordinating Council, a volunteer group dedicated to the revitalization of his boyhood neighborhood.
Dixon says that during the city’s most recent real estate boom, he heard a lot of folks promise big things to improve Anacostia. But that boom is going bust, and Dixon says that locals are used to being let down by unrequited suitors. So he’s “disappointed but not surprised” that Monk’s group hasn’t yet followed through on updating the old theater.
“Nobody from [the foundation] has told us anything about their plans,” says Dixon. “There just hasn’t been any progress. Many people have property and are waiting to see what’s happening here. If they’re waiting for the community to completely change, and then they can put condos or townhouses or a Whole Foods store there, they could tell us that. But the needs of the community, the ones they suggested when this issue first came up, are still there.”
Charities are required to file returns with the IRS each year disclosing financial activity as well as members of their boards of directors. The Good Samaritan Foundation’s most recent return says the group has hired RAB Management, a real estate services firm, as project manager for the Carver renovation project.
The president of RAB Management is LuAnn Bennett, a member of the board of the Good Samaritan Foundation (and wife of Virginia Democratic congressman Jim Moran). John Hauser, vice president of the Bennett group and the firm’s point man on the Carver Theater renovation, says he’s been with the project since Monk and his teammates first came to Anacostia and pledged to build the locals a training center. So he knows all about the delays. Yet Hauser insists that, despite appearances to the contrary, all the pledges will be honored—and soon.
“Everything is resolved, and we are marching now,” Hauser says. “It’s going to be used for its intended purposes. Just getting through building permits and land-use issues, design issues, it just took a little more time. And, in fairness, many people are doing it pro bono. You kind of appreciate somebody doing [work] for you, so you don’t always control the clock. But from now on, this thing, start to finish, will roll.”
In December, the Good Samaritan Foundation submitted informational materials with a White House agency that promotes youth charities. In those materials, the foundation touted being lead by Monk and boasted that a new training center will open in Anacostia “in the spring of 2008.”
We shall see.