It has become something of a long-running governmental soap opera: the 42-month-long drama about the efforts of an inner-city community, aided by government and business, to restore successfully and reopen the Anthony Bowen YMCA in Washington's Shaw neighborhood.
The saga continues, with slow progress but high hopes that the $2.6 million plan can restore Bowen to what it once was: a vibrant, multipurpose facility that hummed with activity for much of its 73-year history. It closed in February 1982.
"We are making progress, but it's going a lot slower than we expected" because of legal tangles, red tape and money problems, said Ibrahim Mumin, a Shaw activist who is chairman of the Shaw Heritage Trust. The trust is the nonprofit entity formed to take over operations of Bowen, which was named for the freed slave who founded the first black YMCA chapter in the nation.
The Bowen building, at 1816 12th St. NW, was shut down by the Metropolitan Washington YMCA, which said the facility was unsafe. Outraged community residents disputed the need for the closing and accused YMCA officials of neglecting the facility and diverting most of its resources to the new YMCA on Rhode Island Avenue, which became a key source of YMCA revenue. Shaw activists filed suit against the YMCA.
Mayor Marion Barry entered the fray, forming a task force and pledging fund-raising assistance. Those efforts failed to materialize until last year when Jeffrey Cohen, a developer and banker who is close to the mayor, offered a novel plan to resuscitate Bowen.
Cohen offered to buy the site from the YMCA for $175,000, about half its assessed value, and then lease it for $1 a year for 99 years to the Shaw Heritage Trust. It would run the Y as a multipurpose center that would promote community development, jobs and cultural and recreational programs, including a YMCA presence. The lawsuit would be dropped.
The trust would reap economic benefits, including the right to sell tax benefits to private investors. Cohen would make no profit on the deal, but it would enhance the value of nearby properties that he owns, according to participants in the plan.
Cohen has purchased the property, and the suit has been dropped. The rest of the Bowen plan is taking shape -- slowly, according to Mumin. Fund-raising was stalled because the trust has to go through a cumbersome process for tax exemption, he said.
"We are trying to implement things that turn out to be a lot more complicated then we realized," he said