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New push for $110m center in Roxbury

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 18, 2008

Two years ago, McDonald's heiress Joan Kroc gave the Salvation Army in Boston $80 million, the largest donation in the organization's history, to build a community center between Uphams Corner and Dudley Square.

Since then, the Salvation Army has struggled to raise the additional $30 million required to start construction. As a result, the 90,000-square-foot project has been delayed for at least two years after the religious organization had planned to break ground.

With $4.5 million raised and $5.3 million pledged, the Salvation Army has launched a new effort to raise money, with the help of John P. Hamill, chairman of Sovereign Bank New England.

He has been appointed to lead a 24-member committee charged with raising the additional money by the end of 2009. The organization has also retained a public relations firm to promote the project and will host a reception tonight with potential donors.

"Initially, there might have been some over-exuberance that we could pick up $30 million without going to a public campaign," said Jack Peters, capital campaign director of the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. "But there's a lot of competition out there, and we had to start a more classic, orthodox campaign."

The delay in building what has been a decades-old dream for the neighborhood has frustrated some local residents. Given the speed with which the Salvation Army bought the 6.5 acres of land on Dudley and Magnolia streets, they thought the project - which will include an indoor water park, auditorium, chapel, and education and computer centers - would be nearing completion at this point.

"Some of the residents are pessimistic, and others are discouraged that it's not meeting timelines," said Lauren M. Thompson, is a board member of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, which has helped plan the center. "I understand that it takes time to raise money, but there's no construction. People do not see activity. That's concerning to people."

In a community meeting several months ago at Project Hope, which will be a neighbor of the community center, some residents expressed concern that the sluggish pace of donations would require the project to be pared.

"We expressed our concern about the need to move more quickly, and they've really heard that," said Sister Margaret Leonard, executive director of Project Hope. "I think people know it's going to happen, but I think if they don't raise all the money, they'll have to scale it down."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino has called on donors to pitch in.

"I'm concerned about it," Menino said. "We need people to step up and help the Salvation Army. . . .. It's a longer haul than expected, but I think it will get done soon." ."

Drew Forster, the community center's planning coordinator, said the faltering economy as well as staff changes in the Salvation Army have helped blunt the flow of donations.

He said the 2006 retirement of Colonel Fred Van Brunt, the state commander for the Salvation Army of Massachusetts, took a toll as donors got to know the new commander, Major William Bode.

"He needed to get out into the community and introduce himself and get to know the funding community," Forster said. "Boston is a world-class city, but it's still a small town. People want to know the CEO of an organization, whether it's a corporation or a nonprofit. They want to know that the new guy has the same vision and what this incredible project will mean. I think they needed to see that firsthand."

Even under the best conditions, attracting $30 million in donations would be a challenge.

"When you're talking about raising this kind of money, there's a lot of worthy philanthropy to support in Boston, a lot of waiting in line," he said.

The Salvation Army could start construction as soon as all the money has been pledged.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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