On March 26, Mayor Marion Barry confidently announced a broad five-part compromise to resolve the bitter dispute over the closing of the Anthony Bowen YMCA in Shaw, a center for neighborhood youth and a landmark for Washington's black community.
The plan would reopen Bowen as a city-owned historic site and community center, build two new YMCA facilities in Washington and raise the money to get it all done.
Now, two months later, the ambitious compromise, drafted at Barry's request by former City Council chairman Sterling Tucker, appears stalled.
The Metropolitan Washington YMCA, which closed Bowen, and Shaw community activists, who want it reopened, are actually in general agreement on many points about the future of the 70-year-old structure, home of the first black YMCA chapter in the nation.
Yet deep distrust between the Shaw community and the YMCA--and within the YMCA itself--has prevented agreement on exactly how and when to get to work on the building, rebuilding, and land transfers outlined in the Tucker report.
Meanwhile, a $150,000 restoration fund drive that Barry pledged to lead has not yet begun. A committee to raise money has not even been named. And last week, a 54-member coalition of Shaw neighborhood groups released a "community response" to the Tucker report which differs on key points from the YMCA's current plans.
Many Shaw residents were outraged over the abrupt closing and accused the YMCA of neglecting an important black institution. YMCA officials, stressing their intention to expand service in poorer neighborhoods, said they closed the rundown building on Feb. 23 because it was dangerous, and pledged to build a new facility. But YMCA officials also said the strident community criticism tarnished the organization's image and hindered its ability to raise money, and that the neighborhood activists had done little to help Bowen before the closing.
"The greatest missing element now is trust," Tucker said in a recent interview. "Neither side is really rejecting the plan, but they are going to have to get themselves together to work it out . . . . The mayor cannot do everything."
Tucker added, "There are too many agendas out there, too many vested interests. And we have to keep in mind what is best for the children of Shaw and children of the whole city."
All sides in the dispute agree that the broad outline of Tucker's plan is still acceptable. But they disagree strongly on crucial details, and they have said the mayor, or some mediator, has to come in and help.
Barry's press secretary, Annette Samuels, said last week the mayor is "not pleased" with the progress of the Tucker plan. She said he is willing to meet with all parties, but has not yet decided on his next step.
"I think the mayor and Tucker thought there would be the political advantage of a quick fix," Charles S. Tidball, chairman of the Metropolitan YMCA, said recently. "It definitely has turned out to be more complicated. And now there are some political liabilities . . . complicated by an election year."
The Tucker plan appeared to be an artfully crafted grab-bag compromise that offered something for everyone, with a land swap as its crucial element.
Shaw would first get a temporary YMCA office while Bowen was closed. Bowen would then be reopened, with Barry leading the fund drive toward restoration. Shaw also would get a new $1 million YMCA gymnasium and community center to be built by the YMCA on Y-owned land adjacent to the Bowen building at 12th and S streets NW.
The four-story brick Bowen building, known as a cultural and political center of the black community early in the century, eventually would become a multi-use facility combining a historic landmark, possibly a museum, with some YMCA programs.
In the land swap, the YMCA would give Bowen to the D.C. government and would receive, in exchange, the land it wants for a new citywide YMCA. Tucker's report suggested the Emery playground at Georgia and Missouri avenues NW in Brightwood, although other city-owned sites would be considered.
The Shaw Ad Hoc Committee to Save Bowen said last week that Bowen must be reopened first before the city considers the land swap. The YMCA, however, said it plans first to raise money for the new $1 million building rather than Bowen, which YMCA officials believe will be too costly to rehabilitate. Both sides agree that fund-raising cannot begin until all parties are clear on how and when the money will be used.
Conflict within the YMCA itself has also been a key complication.
While the YMCA board desires the land swap and the Emery playground site, Bowen's committee of management, a volunteer group responsible for the local YMCA chapter, voted 8-5 earlier this month to oppose those parts of the Tucker plan, according to William H. Rumsey Jr., the committee chairman.
Tidball said the Metropolitan YMCA board will meet this week with the Bowen group in an effort to "reformulate" the management committee, "so that instead of being against us, it will be a group that helps us, rather than hinders us."
Regarding Rumsey, Tidball said his dual role as Bowen chairman and city recreation director represents a potential conflict of interest. Tidball said he believes Rumsey opposed the plan for swapping the Emery playground because he fears a YMCA facility at the site would compete with city recreation facilities there.
Rumsey said in response that he thinks the YMCA board is "going to attempt to get rid of those of us who are not in complete accord."
"I hope for the Y's reputation and future that they do not start bloodletting and taking people off boards," Rumsey said. He called Tidball's suggestion of a conflict of interest "ridiculous," saying he has filled both the city and YMCA jobs for five years, with no complaints raised until he opposed the YMCA board on key issues.
He said he opposes the Emery playground transfer because the city would lose one of its few inner-city open spaces, and because he considers it the wrong location if the YMCA intends to serve many of the poorer children and families in Northeast and Southeast Washington.