Troubled Club May Have Buyer

Posted June 6, 2007 at 4:40pm

Capitol Hill residents’ efforts to retain a neighborhood hub gained some momentum this week when a private developer offered to buy the Boys & Girls Clubs’ eastern branch.

The red brick building has housed after-school programs in the Lincoln Park neighborhood for 70 years, but club officials announced in April that it would close because of high costs and low membership. Some residents rallied against the decision and created a group, Neighbors United, to preserve the building as a community center.

Now, Neighbors United says it has recruited a private developer who is willing to buy the property from the club at market value and hand it over to residents. The developer will be announced Saturday at a street fair for the group, said Will Cobb, a resident who has spearheaded the effort.

If the developer is able to buy the building, Neighbors United hopes to fill it with activities by making partnerships with local groups and businesses, such as Eastern Market Pottery Studio and Capitol Hill Computer Corner. A $350,000 allocation from Washington, D.C.’s budget — which the City Council passed Tuesday — will help keep programs running until the group has achieved nonprofit status and financial stability, Cobb said.

“The big thing about this is the Boys & Girls Club is obviously pulling out and, in my mind, this is the opportunity for the community to step in,” Cobb said.

No offer has been made to the club yet, but officials are willing to consider options for keeping the building open, said Will Gunn, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. However, the club will stop its programs after the summer session in August.

“We don’t have a hard and fast stance,” Gunn said. “If Neighbors United or another group wanted to use the building and if it made sense financially and they were willing to take on the liability, we’d certainly consider it.”

However, Gunn said the club is sticking to its plan to conduct an open bidding process for the sale of the building, which would include input from a real estate professional and community members. The club has not yet decided who will oversee the process, and Gunn said the first responses to the bidding process probably wouldn’t be submitted until after August. The building’s assessed value is $3 million, according to the chief financial officer’s Web site, but its market value could be more.

“Our overall approach is it will be open to everyone,” he said of the process.

But Neighbors United wants to come to an agreement as soon as possible, so programs can continue without interruption. The group envisions the building as a vehicle for uniting residents in a diverse community, with classes and facilities that are open to everyone. Some revenue may come from public-private partnerships and perhaps an endowment, but Cobb emphasized that plans are preliminary. The group is in the process of claiming 501(c)(3) status and finding board members. Donations will be accepted at the street fair on Saturday, which will be from noon to 6 p.m. on C Street Southeast between 16th and 17th streets. Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells (D) and At-Large Councilman Kwame Brown (D) will attend, and performances will start at 3 p.m., Cobb said.

“We’ve got a huge ramp-up opportunity ahead of us, but we’re ready to take it on,” Cobb said, later adding: “We know we can do a heck of a job running it.”