In a stormy meeting this week, rank-and-file members of the YWCA rebuffed a proposal by their board of directors to sell the YWCA building at 17th and K streets NW.
The board has signed a contract to sell the property to the John Akridge Co., a local development firm, for $6.8 million and reportedly is negotiating to purchase the Neisner Bros. building at 12th and G streets NW.
The failure of the membership to approve the sales contract with Akridge left both transactions up in the air. Officials of both the Y and the Akridge firm said the contract specifies that it is subject to ratification by members of the YWCA. However, Y officials also claimed that the organization's board is empowered to sell the property.
More than 300 YWCA members packed the Y's Barker Auditorium for the meeting, which was called as a result of a petition by the Save the YWCA Committee, a group opposed to the sale. Outside the building, committee members passed out leaflets and held up signs saying, "Vote No." Inside, residents of the YWCA's Capitol Hill Tower, a residence for girls, paraded with placards reading "Support the Board, It's a Smart Move."
Candace Bryant, a member of the board's financial committee told members the YWCA had a deficit of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] for the six months ending Dec. 31. At that rate, according to Bryant, the organization would exhaust its capital in about two years and be out of business. She said income had increased at a much slower rate than costs and that the YWCA did not want to raise fees so high that it would price the facilities out of the reach of most women.
To solve the financial problem, the board wants to sell the 17th and K streets property and move to a less expensive location. The proposed price of the Neisner building could not be learned, but Y officials said that "it is anticipated that $2 to $3 million would be retained and invested to provide support for future programs."
Beverly Rashid, executive of the D.C. branch, which is housed in the 17th and K streets building, said that the move would make Y more accessible to people who don't shop or work in the 17th and K streets area.
Laurie Keenan, a member, questioned the wisdon of giving up "the solid constituency we have here." Others suggested that the financial situation could be improved by better management, better public relations, and fuller utilization of the building. A substitute motion to set up independent committees to improve the program and investigate the deficit was ruled out of order by board president Regina Saxton.
Secret balloting yielded 199 votes for the sale of the building and 123 against. Because a 2/3 majority was needed to ratify the board's action, the resolution failed by 15 votes.
"The board is responsible for the fiscal affairs of the YWCA," Saxton said, adding that the group will deliberate and decide" what to do about the property transactions.
Board members are scheduled to meet at noon today.
Robert O'Malley of the law firm of Covington & Burling, which is handling the legal aspects of the proposed sale, said he did not know what effect the members' action would have on the transaction.
The YWCA by-laws gives responsibility for disposing of property to the board. The D.C. code, however, specifies that when the board of directors of a non-profit organization whose members have voting rights sells "all or substantially all of the assets," the action must be ratified by two-thirds of the members attending a meeting called for that purpose. This provision of the code apparently has never been tested in court.
Eleanor Shannahan, spokeswoman of the Committee to Save the YWCA, said she was "delighted that the members had voted not to sell the K Street property. It would be inconceivable for the board to override the members' wishes as expressed at a meeting whose ground rules were set up by the board," said Shannahan.
The YWCA building, a red-brick Georgian revival structure, was dedicated by Grace Coolidge in 1927.If the proposed sale goes through, Akridge plans to demolish the structure and put up an office building.
Neisner Bros., a variety store chain based in Rochester, N.Y., plans to close its Washington store. Irwin Kipness, real estate director for Neisner, said that representatives of the owners of the building had asked Neisner Bros. to terminate their lease earlier than planned to accommodate the YWCA. Beth Howard, a trust officer of American Security and Trust Co., confirmed in a telephone interview that she has been negotiating with the YWCA on behalf of the Hugh Wallis Trust, part owner of the building. John Mason of National Savings and Trust, which represents the other owners of the building, would not comment on any negotiations and would not disclose the identity of the other owners.
Mildred Savacool, executive director of the National Capital Area YWCA, also confirmed that negotiations are in progress for the possible purchase of the Neisner site. She emphasized that there was no contract to purchase the property and that no deposit had been made on it.