- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

Columbia Heights address was

prime factor in choice of building

The Greater Washington Urban League began the renovation of its new headquarters in Columbia Heights yesterday, kicking off the next phase in its decade-old relocation project.

The new location — the old Hines Funeral Home at 14th and Harvard streets NW — is triple the size of the league’s current headquarters at 3501 14th St., also in Columbia Heights. The new site also is within walking distance of the Columbia Heights Metro station.

About 150 people gathered at the site yesterday morning to celebrate the beginning of the renovation.

Maudine Cooper, the league’s president and chief executive, smiled as she spoke about the new facility and the new programs the league plans to offer.

“There’s so much that can happen here. It’s exciting,” Mrs. Cooper said. “The building we have now is too small. There’s no storage and lots of renovations are needed.”

The space at the new building will allow the league to establish after-school care, job-training and health programs, Mrs. Cooper said. “You see the kids running around the street and you know you need somewhere to put them, but we don’t have the space,” she said.

Staying in Columbia Heights was a priority of the Urban League’s board of directors when it looked for a new site, board Chairman Jerry Moore III said. The nonprofit social services and civil rights organization was founded in 1938 and spent more than 25 years in Columbia Heights.

“The Urban League is a Columbia Heights institution, and we’re going to stay a Columbia Heights institution,” Mr. Moore said.

The new building, which has been vacant for 20 years, has so much space that the league plans to rent out 5,000 square feet, Mrs. Cooper said. She said she hopes the D.C. Department of Employment Services will rent the space because the league and the department share similar goals and missions.

The league plans to move into the new building in August 2004. But the league must first raise $7.3 million, in addition to $2.7 million already raised. Half of the $10 million will go toward construction and moving costs, while the remainder will be used as an endowment for building repairs and new programs.

Citing the league’s motto “Owning a piece of the rock,” Mrs. Cooper said the league wants the new building to be paid off entirely. “The Urban League should not leave a building that it owns for one it would have to rent,” she said.

So far, fund-raising efforts have focused on corporate donors. The focus will ultimately shift to private donations and profit from plaque sales at the new building, she said.

Mrs. Cooper said the league is looking into selling its current headquarters, noting that it needs extensive repairs and a new heating and cooling system.

The board is expected to vote on the future of the current building sometime next year. It has been appraised at about $1 million.

The building renovation is part of the Columbia Heights revitalization plan headed by the National Capital Revitalization Corp. It is the first of more than a dozen development projects planned for the neighborhood.

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