Albert “Butch” Hopkins, a dominant figure in community development in the District, died Thursday at 71.
Hopkins died five months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His death was confirmed Thursday by the Anacostia Economic Development Corp., the outfit he had been associated with since 1969 and led since 1974.
A Washington native and Air Force veteran who put himself through Howard law school by working in the U.S. Senate post office, Hopkins had a hand in major developments all over the city, but made his greatest impact east of the Anacostia River — participating in residential and commercial developments including the Good Hope Marketplace shopping center and the 113-unit Knox Hill Village town houses.
”When the community was struggling for development and projects, Butch was caught up in that, too, and it was hard,” said Arrington Dixon, the former D.C. Council chairman and current Anacostia businessman. “But once things took off, he was able to bring some structure, knowledge and capacity to that.”
Hopkins was criticized over the years for squandering taxpayer dollars. A 2002 Washington Post article aired complaints that the $23 million in grants and loans his AEDC had received over the past decade hadn’t resulted in promised jobs and development. The piece highlighted an ill-fated deal to use a $25,000 loan to buy gold in Mali and revealed that a for-profit AEDC subsidiary had leased luxury cars for Hopkins.
“We’re working in the hardest area to develop,” Hopkins said at the time, defending his record. “I get more praise than criticism. If I wasn’t doing my job, I’d be long gone.”
But Hopkins could point to progress a decade later. The 2002 piece noted that AEDC had “yet to deliver on its signature project,” the Anacostia Northern Gateway project at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road. It took another eight years, but Hopkins completed the project; the Gateway building now houses the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Beyond that, the criticisms that had been leveled against Hopkins and AEDC have been common to small, often undercapitalized community development corporations like AEDC working in troubled neighborhoods where private equity has been skittish about investment. But the development boom that’s struck the city over past decade in a half has given a jump-start to projects pushed by such CDCs.
It happened in Columbia Heights. It happened on H Street NE. And it is about to happen in Anacostia, but Butch Hopkins sadly won’t be around to see it happen.
He is survived by two sisters, two children and six grandchildren. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. next Friday, July 6, at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, 1725 Rhode Island Ave. NW.