For several months now, the Rev. John Steinbruck of Luther Place Memorial Church has been trying to give away a piece of church-owned property in the heart of downtown.
The deal is this: Any developer who will erect a high-rise for the homeless on the lot at 13th Street and Vermont Avenue NW gets the land free.
Steinbruck believes that area developers and hotel magnates who have made big bucks in the District should be willing to give something back to the community. At the very least, he reckons, there is a lot of good publicity in a venture that could serve as a national model for helping the down-and-out.
Such a deal does not seem to appeal to developers. Not enough in it for them, it seems. There have been no takers.
Now comes the Oliver Carr Co., one of the most influential developers in the city, with its own idea for helping poor people. Carr proposes to plow 10 percent of the earnings from a proposed $200 million Gallery Place office and hotel complex back into the "inner city."
Carr, you may recall, is the man most responsible for bringing post-riot Washington back to life. When he speaks, everybody listens.
But when you consider that no one -- including Carr -- has shown any interest in Steinbruck's offer, you have to wonder just how concerned these people are about helping the down-and-out.
The Carr offer is, in fact, quite extraordinary, said to be unprecedented in the annals of urban development. It amounts to giving about $40 million to "inner-city causes" over the next 20 years.
But what Carr is asking for is even more extraordinary. He wants a discount on the District-owned land atop the Gallery Place Metro Station. He wants to pay only $17 million for the site, which is now assessed at $57 million.
He is also asking for other goodies, such as not having to build residences at the downtown site.
Carr is probably one of the most brilliant developers in this city. He is a true visionary and he knew, even as the city was smoldering in the ashes of 1968, that it would rise again. This is, after all, the nation's capital -- and Carr is its modern day Pierre L'Enfant.
If there is a master plan for what Washington will look like in the future, Carr has it in his desk drawer.
Whether that plan really includes homes for poor blacks, as promised, is hard to say. I, for one, doubt it.
Anyone who lives in the inner-city neighborhood of Shaw, for example, knows that if the city's development continues at the pace it's going, there will be no poor people downtown 20 years from now.
Somehow, they never seem able to hang on long enough to see the arrival of the new supermarket or drugstore or Metro station. Heroin, PCP, crack, cocaine, AIDS, unemployment and crime always get there first. It is ironic that all of these new developments and offers come at a time when the inner city is showing a tremendous increase in new residents -- most of whom are young, white professionals.
If the city does agree to the Carr plan, it should demand a show of good faith first. Something should be done for the inner city up front -- and not just for the welfare poor but for the working poor folk, too.
Taking Steinbruck up on his offer to build a real home for the homeless would be a good start. I don't want to take anything away from the Oliver Carr Co. It has invested a lot in this city, but it has also taken a lot out. Over the long run, and Carr knows this, Gallery Place is going to be worth a lot more money than he is offering -- even more if it ends up being surrounded by yuppie neighborhoods.
His deal should be given serious consideration. But if his company is truly committed to helping the inner city, I say it should do something now -- while the poor people who can benefit from his assistance are still around.