- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

A project to build a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall by 2008 is coming off a sluggish fund-raising year and could face a new competitor for donor dollars.

Nevertheless, organizers insist there will be plenty of generosity to fund the King Memorial and a proposed National Museum of African American History and Culture, which got a major boost last month when President Bush said the building belongs on the Mall.

“I do not believe we’ll be in direct competition,” King Memorial Foundation President Harry Johnson said. “I believe there is enough support to make both of them happen.”

Mr. Johnson acknowledged, however, that last year’s fund raising was disappointing for the King Memorial project. A little more than $5 million was collected, despite projections that had topped $30 million. Total contributions for the project now stand at $35.5 million, barely a third of its projected cost.

This year is critical. If the project can’t get to $67 million by January, there won’t be enough money to break ground, as scheduled, in 2006.

Mr. Johnson says he isn’t concerned. He said the foundation “turbocharged” its fund-raising efforts in recent weeks with public service announcements featuring Oscar-winning actors Morgan Freeman and Halle Berry.

It also enlisted the National Basketball Association to air some of its own as a way to collect money.

“We’re coming out of the quiet phase of the campaign, going into our public phase,” Mr. Johnson said.

Most of the money has come from high-dollar corporate donors, including $10 million from General Motors, $9 million from the Ad Council, $5 million from Tommy Hilfiger, $1.1 million from Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and $1 million from Fannie Mae.

GM spokesman Edd Snyder said company officials aren’t concerned about the memorial’s recent fund-raising woes. Memorials to President Franklin Roosevelt and Holocaust victims had numerous snags and delays, he said.

“If you take any of those memorials, they have all had extensions or movement,” Mr. Snyder said. “I guess it’s a matter of course.”

This year could be the last one in which the memorial doesn’t face the prospect of going head-to-head with the black history museum for dollars.

That project is operating with just $3.5 million from the federal government and no full-time director or staff. An engineering firm has been hired to study four possible sites for the museum, one of which likely will be picked early next year. After that, fund-raising efforts figure to get more aggressive.

“It is moving,” said Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and a civil rights leader who has championed the building. “There’s strong bipartisan support for the museum. It’s going to happen. We just have to raise the money.”

At least one company has agreed to help fund both the museum and memorial. In 2002, Columbus, Ga.-based insurer AFLAC Inc. was the first major donor to the black history museum, giving $1 million to the presidential commission then studying possible sites.

Mr. Johnson said AFLAC also recently pledged an undisclosed amount for the King Memorial, as did Bank of America and Proctor & Gamble.

The landscaped memorial would cover a 4-acre triangle on the shore of the Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and next to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. It would include, among other things, an elevated walkway overlooking the basin, a huge stone marker in King’s likeness and oak, pine, magnolia and cherry trees.

Paul Devrouax, an architect for the King Memorial, says quiet fund raising hasn’t stalled their plans.

“We’re moving forward,” he said. “From an architecture standpoint, as long as my client is asking us to continue to do work, we will continue to do work.”

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