- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

The Greater Washington Urban League, after a quarter of a century as a landmark in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Northwest, has found a new $5 million home a few blocks away at the old Hines Funeral Home at 14th and Harvard streets.
The 30,000-square-foot brick facility is more than twice the size of the league's headquarters at 3501 14th Street, said Maudine Cooper, league president and chief executive.
"The building has been vacant and boarded up for 30 years," she said. "Our goal is to completely gut the inside of the four-story building. … We're treating the renovation and [building's exterior restoration] as though it were a historic building," Mrs. Cooper said.
The League has raised $2.3 million toward the purchase of the building, it was announced Wednesday evening during the 31st Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Gala at Wardman Park Marriott in Northwest.
"We're moving in June 2004. That's the date we're shooting for," Mrs. Cooper said, adding that she can't wait to pull up stakes and move into the new digs near the Columbia Heights metro station.
The enormous amount of space at the building will allow the league to rent out 5,500 square feet, and Mrs. Cooper said she hopes the D.C. Department of Employment Services will occupy a portion of the building.
"They're about jobs and so is the Urban League," she said. "The community needs jobs, and we [would] view this as a great partnership."
The renovation will be managed by DRI Partners Inc. The Eichberg Co. will handle the construction, and Russell Sears and Associates will design the building.
Mrs. Cooper applauded the vision of John Jacob, a senior vice president at Anheuser-Busch and former president of the National Urban League, for his foresight in buying the league's current building from the Danzansky family decades ago. Today, the building has been appraised at $1.2 million.
"Mr. Jacob bought the building at a time when organizations were not buying properties," Mrs. Cooper said. "And he gave the first contribution of $300,000, which got us started."
Mrs. Cooper said she has witnessed a renaissance along the 14th Street corridor, which was ravaged during three days of rioting in 1968 after the murder of Martin Luther King and has remained blighted.
But major projects have since been negotiated, and Mrs. Cooper said she wants the new home of the league paid in full.
"I believe we are the farthest along with all of those projects, and I'm glad about that because I want us up and running before all the other construction begins. You know people talk about investment revenue bonds. I don't want financing. I want to get in the building and get it paid for. I want to burn the mortgage and then it's yours," she said.
"Any money that is raised after the mortgage is paid off will be put into an endowment fund or into our programs," Mrs. Cooper said.
She hopes to raise an additional $5 million for an endowment to make repairs to the building and other work.
Long before she embarked upon finding a new home for the league, Mrs. Cooper did her homework and called on professional colleagues across the country and property owners for advice. In the process she learned that a reserve fund is mandatory to maintain a property.
Jerry Moore III, chairman of the Greater Washington Urban League's board, described the upcoming move as "wonderful." He also said the current league home is "wonderful."
"The building we now have is wonderful, except when it rains or snows, or a bus goes by. It's structurally safe, but it's not a good place for us to be because the building is subject to continuous repairs," Mr. Moore said.
He said that although renovation has not started, the development team has met weekly for the past six months for planning.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for us and for the community to remove an eyesore and revive it with programs that benefit the community," he said.

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