Saturday, November 6, 2004

In the last three years, each of us has buried and consoled church and community members whose cry for help became our collective fight: neighborhoods first. For instance, Deacon Walter Coates was shot dead walking to a New Year’s Eve service at Beulah Baptist Church in December 2001.

The mayor and City Council promised change in Ward 7’s Deanwood Heights neighborhood, but Watts Branch Recreation Center is still housed in an equipment storage hut just off Eastern Avenue, where too many young people joy ride in stolen cars and shoot guns for fun. The Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue retail district is still anchored by liquor stores, a methadone clinic and abandoned buildings.

To address the inequities between neighborhood and downtown development, Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) worked successfully with the D.C. Council to create in January 2004 a $100 million Neighborhood Investment Fund, dedicating 15 percent of the city’s personal business property tax to pay off the bonds. Then the city sought stadium financing legislation, but WIN successfully demanded neighborhoods be first.

This time around, WIN’s position on baseball is the same: neighborhoods first. WIN’s goal is $1 billion for the neighborhoods. The stadium deal, therefore, cannot proceed unless it produces an equal and simultaneous $500 million investment to transform D.C. neighborhoods. This will require the same political will, government resolve and corporate investment as winning a Major League Baseball franchise.

Baseball can either divide or unite D.C. Working with WIN and the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, Mayor Williams this week took an important first step in bridging the gap that so often divides our city by proposing adding a $450 million Community Investment Fund to the baseball financing package. WIN also has advocated such a fund in discussions with D.C. Council members.

Here’s the WIN proposal to fund it:

c Impose an equivalent Neighborhood Investment Ball Park Fee on the city’s largest businesses that have already agreed to a special gross-receipts tax to pay for half of the new baseball stadium. D.C. corporate leaders can unite this city by agreeing to pay into a fund for library, school, housing and neighborhood retail reconstruction in the city’s poorest neighborhoods not just for luxury suites and third-base line box seats.

c Renegotiate the current MLB/District agreement to allow D.C. to impose a neighborhood investment surcharge on all tickets, concessions, souvenirs and parking at the stadium so D.C. residents can share equally in the new business created by the franchise. Surely, MLB negotiators did not think following the D.C. elections that MLB would get everything the mayor promised. The new stadium’s center field wall should have a prominent banner thanking fans, owners and players for investing in D.C. neighborhoods instead of promoting banking or telephone services.

The monies raised would be equally invested to support neighborhood development, school facilities reconstruction, libraries/recreation centers and at-risk youth programs. Creating the $450 million Community Investment Fund would be a clear sign to Deanwood Heights, Sursum Corda and Columbia Heights that neighborhoods are first in D.C.

The mayor and D.C. Council members should remember the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 as they consider the baseball legislation. Here, God admonishes his followers’ confusion — for building a great city with towers and false idols that distracted them from God and what is important to God.

God is not interested in the false idols of luxury boxes, upscale development and fancy restaurants. God will judge us by whether we have let Walter Coates and others die in vain or whether we act to rebuild D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods.


Pastor, Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, Ward 6


Pastor, Beulah Baptist Church, Ward 7


Pastor, All Souls Unitarian,

Ward 1

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