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A banner hanging in front of the old Carver Theater in Southeast identifies the building as the “Future Home of the Anacostia Good Samaritan Foundation Training and Outreach Center.”
Perhaps someday such a place will occupy the site, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, just a few blocks from the newly restored Big Chair. But for the past several years, this has been the home only to all sorts of decay.
Pallets of soft-drink bottles have piled up among the trash near a chain-link fence on the south side of the boarded-up building. Bent-up sardine cans and empty plastic Big Hug Punch and Rock Creek peach soda containers litter the sidewalk out front, beneath a lot of torn employment flyers that look like they were glued to the plywood years ago. Even the banner itself, weather-beaten and graffitied and well past its prime, appears ready for the trash.
Recent rains notwithstanding, the entire site smells like vintage piss.
“There’s a whole lot of good things going on in Anacostia now, but right in the middle of it, at a site right near the Metro, we have this big box of blight that’s just sitting there,” says Yavocka Young of Main Street Anacostia, a group that promotes commercial development along MLK Avenue, which for decades has been one of the neediest thoroughfares in one of the city’s neediest neighborhoods. “And it’s like nothing’s being done at all. There’s no accountability for what’s going on there—the trash, this big eyesore. We’re all just talking around that site.”
Young says part of this lack of accountability for the trash dump that is the Carver Theater site comes from its being located in Ward 8, where complaints about lousy city services are as commonplace as losing lottery tickets.
But the way Young sees things, the matter of who runs the Good Samaritan Foundation plays a hand, as well.
“If these guys weren’t Redskins,” she says, “I don’t think it ever would have come to this.”
“These guys” are Art Monk and Charles Mann, who founded Good Samaritan along with teammates Tim Johnson and Earnest Byner in 1992 to provide such things as career counseling and employment training to the city’s less fortunate youth. Monk and Mann, two of the most popular and most respected players in team history, took the lead in running the foundation after Johnson left the area and Byner got into coaching (he’s currently a running-backs coach with the Skins).
In the late ’90s, Monk and Mann decided that the group’s headquarters should be in Anacostia, where its offerings were needed most. Until that point, Good Samaritan had used donated space in various churches, law offices, and schools as offices and training sites. Monk and Mann went to community leaders with their vision in 1999, and, by all accounts, it was roundly accepted. The renown of the visionaries, some neighborhood activists now admit, had as much to do with that acceptance as the vision.
“I still have pictures of that meeting at Birney Elementary,” says Philip Pannell, a longtime D.C. activist and now the head of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, of the 1999 gathering where Monk and Mann told the locals that Good Samaritan planned to take over the Carver Theater. “Must have been a few hundred people there, and the Redskins were there, and everybody was running up to them and getting autographs. I’m not a sports fan, so I didn’t have any idea who Art Monk and Charles Mann are, but everybody else was really excited that this was happening. Well, that this was going to happen.”
With the pro-bono assistance of a McLean, Va.–based law firm—Watt, Tieder, Hoffar & Fitzgerald—the Good Samaritan Foundation negotiated a 20-year lease on the old theater. The terms of the lease held that the charity would pay a nominal monthly rent to the city, which owned the building at that time. In hailing its work to secure the lease for Monk and Mann’s group, the law firm announced in June 2001 that construction on the “state-of-the-art training center for young people in the community” would begin that August.
That was the first of many deadlines that were never met. In October 2001, the Good Samaritan Foundation announced it had broken ground on the center and that the building would be ready for occupancy the following September.
Again, didn’t happen.
But an awful lot of fundraising has taken place for the Anacostia center over the years, some of it even before the group took control of the property. In November 2000, the Good Samaritan Foundation announced that area companies, including Andersen Consulting and Clark Construction, had “committed $1 million” toward the creation of the new training center. In the group’s newsletter in the fall of 2000, Mann, quoting a proverb that says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” said the donations would allow the new center to open in 2001.
Also in 2000, the Foundation said the annual Accenture Celebrity Golf Tournament brought in $120,000, and in 2001, the group announced that $100,000 from that year’s Accenture links tournament would go to the Good Samaritan Foundation’s general fund and could be “used for a new training and outreach center for the group.” Mann said in a press release at the time of the latter grant that the new money “puts us closer to realizing our dream of opening the training center in early 2002.”
Money for the planned center has come from Capitol Hill, too: The federal budget for fiscal 2003 contained a $500,000 payment to the Good Samaritan Foundation “to acquire and renovate a building to expand outreach and mentoring services to at-risk District of Columbia youths.” The 2004 federal budget had $275,000 earmarked for the group with the same language.
In December 2004, the D.C. Council passed a resolution to sell the Carver Theater building to the Good Samaritan Foundation. According to the city’s Office of Real Property, the charity then bought the site for $255,235.
Yet for all the private and public efforts on behalf of the renovation, the only obvious development at 2405 Martin Luther King Ave. SE in the past seven years is in the size of the trash piles surrounding the building.
“I remember the day that theater opened, and I was one of the first people through the doors,” says Arrington Dixon, a longtime figure in D.C. politics whose boyhood home was right behind the now-decrepit structure. “So this has been extremely disappointing to me. But not just to me. People in the neighborhood all recognized [Monk and Mann] and their names, and we were expecting the Redskins were going to move forward on what was said, and there was a commitment made to them by the community based on what [the Good Samaritan Foundation] told us, however many years ago that was. We wanted their presence, and that could have been a catalyst for change in that neighborhood. But nothing has happened, and now we are left with this big eyesore, and the group is a slum landlord.”
Throw in all the publicity Monk and Mann have gotten for their work with one of the groups trying to buy the Washington Nationals and with the for-profit development corporation that attempted to buy the crime-infested Sursum Corda co-op last year, and there’s a growing level of skepticism around Anacostia about whether or not the former Redskins will ever really follow through on the renovation.
“The value of that piece of property has gone up since they took over the location,” says Dixon. “I would hope this isn’t some sort of prospecting thing going on.”
Mann says he understands why some folks in Anacostia are questioning the Foundation’s commitment to the neighborhood.
“I know we have to go back and reconnect with the community,” says the former defensive end. “We asked all the pastors to get behind us seven years ago, talked to everybody, to have them endorse what we could do if we came in with our program. Never once in our wildest imagination did we think it would take this long. We went in with the football mentality—that we can do anything we want. Nobody thought it would take seven years. It’s been quite a struggle, but shame on us.”
Mann insists he and Monk still intend to complete the task and says that the group now plans to break ground on the Carver Theater renovation “sometime in May.”
Asked what specifically has held up the project for so many years, Mann cited his group’s negotiations with the city about ownership of the property. Initially, he says, the Good Samaritan Foundation leadership thought it would be given the site “for a buck.”
“If I had to do this all over again, we would have been a little more sober in how we approached this,” he says. “So what if we’re a celebrity or icons in the community. That doesn’t give us a go-around-town-and-do-anything-we-want card. Unfortunately, we learned that the process of getting things done is a little more difficult in D.C. than it is in Virginia or elsewhere.”
Mann says that he is now trying to raise money to fund the renovation, saying it will cost $2.3 million. Lawrence Dark, who took over as executive director of the Good Samaritan Foundation in February, says the group now has “a half-million dollars” dedicated to the project.
“I’m wondering,” says Pannell, “which one will occur first: Will D.C. get statehood? Will women get pay equity? Or will the Good Samaritan center open in Anacostia?”