After nearly 26 years of urban renewal, the Southwest area still does not have a modern, multipurpose community center. About 40 Southwest residents protested that lack this week in a town meeting with D.C. Department of Recreation officials Michael McKee and Julius Dickerson and Ward 2 councilman John Wilson.
Much of the evening's debate, held at Randall Senior High School, First and I Sts. SW, centered on the recretion department's charge that Southwest was at the bottom of its priority list because residents had only recently submitted a proposal for a community center. Community residents, supported by Wilson, said, however, that a proposal had been submited years ago and was denied.
"The proposal was in the recreation department budget," said Wilson. "It was taken out before it came to the council for approval. The Department of Recreation said it could not justify need. We (the city council) have the power to tax you," Wilson told the community residents, "but we do not have the power to tell where the money goes after we tax you."
Both Dickerson and McKee said they did not know that the community had previously applied for recreation funds. They said, however, that a proposal has been submitted in the department's 1984 budget to include Southwest and that Landsburgh Park, on Delaware Avenue between M and I Sts. SW, had been selected as a possible center site. Until then, "We hope we can keep your request alive," said Dickerson, director of plans and development for the department. "Even if we had a building coming tomorrow we wouldn't be able to staff it or have money for maintenance costs," he said.
Wilson said he would submit a proposal for the 1980 budget process because, "I will not be here in 1984."
Still, residents asked again and again, how did Southwest get to the bottom of the list?
Joy Davis, chairman of the Southwest committee fighting for the center, said she was an analyst for the Redevelopment Land Agency in 1966 when "the city wasted money to burn." Even then a community center for Southwest was a hot issue, she said, because an abandoned dog pound next to Randall High School was being used as the area's community center.
"We want to get our just rights," she said. "This area was supposed to be used as a model for the rest of the city, the nation, and we're using a discarded dog pound as a community center."
"I talked to some of the political people here, or so-called political people, and they told me, what do you need? How can you people in Southwest have a problem?" said Carl Holman, president of the National Urban Coalition. "I think it's a matter of attitude."
Using the $920,000 Chevy Chase Community Center on Connecticut Avenue NW as an example of their dream, area residents asked how that community had received its funds.
"If one part of the city has a recreation center out of public funds and another area doesn't, there's a serious question of how those funds are allocated," said Frank Davis, an economics professor at Howard University.
Wilson summed up the department's funding process stating: "If the Department of Recreation doesn't support it, or the mayor, it's in a very rocky boat."