After a successful, 14-year struggle to get the city and Congress to fund a park, the Ontario Lakers are now attempting to raise $100,000 to buy a warehouse and lot for a community center in Adams-Morgan.
The owner has agreed to sell the property for $350,000 to the Lakers, a 14-year-old youth sports and recreation group. And Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan Association has agreed to lend them 75 percent of the purchase price "if we can raise $20,000 as a down payment by Oct. 15 and an $80,000 balance by January," said Walter Pierce, founder and director of the Lakers. "We will go to settlement in January after the new tax assessment comes out."
For the last four years the Lakers have been renting the run-down warehouse at 2322 17th St. NW for $500 a month. "The rent has been paid by a $200-a-month grant from the Redskin Foundation and $300 a month from community-based programs from the D.C. Department of Recreation," Pierce said.
Residents have donated money, furniture, books and supplies to the Lakers to help maintain their community center. The Lakers renovated the warehouse themselves. "When we first came here, all the windows were broken. We replaced them and built a bar, a stage, and painted and made repairs," Pierce said.
The warehouse, which was 30,000 square feet of space, would need more renovation work. Under the present plan, other tenants already in the building would remain there. Those tenants include Standard Auto Body and the Community Soap Factory. A clinic rented by Children's Hospital was vacated when they moved to the new Marie Reed Learning Center a few blocks away.
The Lakers are now beginning an intensive neighborhood fundraising drive. They are canvassing door-to-door, leafleting bus stops, taking pledges from residents and holding community fundraisers, parties and bake sales.
"This building will serve every age group and organization in the neighborhood," Pierce said. He added that churches, tenant associations and businesses in the 18th Street and Columbia Road area had promised to help raise money.
So far, he said $13,000 has been pledged, and he has $3,000 cash in hand.The money has come from individual donations and the community fund-raising activities, Pierce said.
"This is the last stand in this neighborhood. If we can't buy this building, there won't be any more programs for blacks. There won't be any alternative to the public school programs," Pierce said.
Herman Goodman, owner of the warehouse and lot, confirmed the $350,000 price for the property. He said that he had received two other offers from parties who do not live in the D.C. area. He was not familiar with the plans those prospective owners had for the warehouse.
"The Lakers have been there, and they have an option. That gives them first preference," Goodman said.
Tom Owen, president of Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan Association, said, "We will entertain a 75 percent loan, subject to the Lakers raising a 25 percent down payment and achieving certain rent levels form the other tenants."
Owen said that he and other representatives from Perpetual had visited the warehouse "to see what Walter Pierce and the Lakers were up to.
"Perpetual likes to help community groups," he said. "We have a branch going up in that neighborhood. We are interested in maintaining moderate-income housing stock and facilities for youth."
Perpetual plans to open its 18th Street and Columbia Road branch sometime this fall.
The Lakers are well-known throughout the city for sponsoring the annual Ghetto Invitation Basketball Tournament, held each spring. Pierce estimates that 3,000 have played in the tournament since it began eight years ago.
The Lakers have a reputation in Adams-Morgan for other types of community action projects. They have planted trees and flowers, worked with juveniles from the D.C. court system and enabled participants in the tournament to win college basketball scholarships.
The group has takes field trips to hospitals and the Goddard Space Flight Center, holds kung fu, sewing, creative writing and other classes and organizes fashion shows. "This fall we're also planning to have math and reading tutoring," Pierce said. There are also plans for a program for senior citizens in the future."
Also, the Lakers were instrumental in persuading the city and Congress to appropriate money this year to buy the vacant Shapiro Tract on Adams Mill Road NW for a park.
Contributions to the Lakers are tax-deductible and may be mailed to: The Ontario Lakers-Adams Morgan Organization, 2323 17th St. NW.