Four years of effort came to a halt May 4 when the Salvation Army canceled development of its Long Beach Kroc Center, a community center aimed to help change underdeveloped neighborhoods.
In an announcement on its website, www.longbeachkroc.org, the Salvation Army said the project is not financially feasible, citing “escalating costs and fundraising challenges” as its roadblocks. The Western Territorial Headquarters board of directors, who voted unanimously to cancel the project, informed local officials of these issues in a letter signed by Chief Secretary William Harfoot.
The letter astonished everyone involved.
“We are all stunned by this announcement,” Mayor Bob Foster said in a statement released by the city. “Perhaps most perplexing, is that many of these issues are coming to the city’s attention for the first time through this letter, leaving years of progress, staff work, cooperative relationships and a considerable financial outlay from the Salvation Army in tatters.”
Members close to the project didn’t find out until they received a letter as well, like Evan Lamont, the Kroc Center Project’s spokesman.
“Everyone here was as blind-sided as everyone else,” Lamont said in a Press-Telegram article.
David Neary, chairman to the advisory board of the Salvation Army, said these issues were new to him and had no idea the project was in danger.
In 2004, the estate of Joan Kroc – widow of McDonald’s entrepreneur, Ray Kroc – left $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army to build a series of community centers across the country. The donation, one of the largest gifts in the nation’s history, designated $76 million for the Long Beach Center. Half the amount was set aside for construction and the remaining $38 million as an endowment for the center’s operations.
However, as a condition of sorts, Kroc wanted the communities to show their support of these centers by raising a significant portion of the funds – $15 million in Long Beach’s case. Four centers have already been opened under the same conditions: San Diego, San Francisco, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Salem, Oregon with upcoming centers in Honolulu and Phoenix.
Major Cindy Foley, the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers’ consultant, stated at least half of the funds had to be raised by Long Beach in time for the board’s Apr. 30 review. Failure to meet that deadline could result in cancellation.
The online announcement affirmed, “The money didn’t come in the way [the Salvation Army] needed it to.”
The letter from Territorial Headquarters also cited this fundraising issue as a reason for the cancelled project.
Another problem described in the letter is the property site: the Hamilton Bowl, located at Pacific Coast Highway and Walnut Avenue, is a Los Angeles County flood control basin. The letter stated construction costs originally estimated at $5 billion jumped to $9.2 billion because of the nature of the flood plain.
LBPost also reported Foley said the Salvation Army would not fully own the site, just the Kroc Center building. The adjacent fields and parking lots on site would be under a 99-year lease from the City of Long Beach. Furthermore, the letter states that in the event of a catastrophe, the Salvation Army would not be indemnified from any liability – an “unacceptable financial risk.”
While the Salvation Army seems to have pulled the plug on the community project due to objectionable deals regarding fundraising and property, city and county officials seem open to negotiations and resolutions.
“The one thing that we can’t walk away from are the regional flood control responsibilities,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe said in a Los Angeles Times article. “That is an issue, but it can be overcome.”
“This center is really important for the city,” Mayor Bob Foster said in the same article.
A letter-writing campaign to revive the Long Beach Kroc Center is at www.savethekroc.com.