The Washington Post is reporting that the Boys and Girls Club is going to close several branches in the D.C. area, including Georgetown’s Jellef Branch, right next to Social Safeway. The organization is severely struggling to ensure its long term financial future and has identified for elimination the branches with the fewest members. What this means to the neighborhood after the jump:
The Jellef Branch is the oldest operating branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. From his experience, GM finds it to be well used. It’s the headquarters of the highly popular Stoddert Soccer League, it’s constantly in use for classes and pick up basketball games, and it’s home to the City Collegiate Charter School. Moreover it’s apparently the most profitable property in the Boys and Girls Club’s portfolio.
But what it isn’t is very successful at is attracting genuine members of the club. While over six-thousand kids are technically members through Stoddert Soccer, the number of members in the traditional “at risk youth” group is quite small.
Nobody should be too surprised about this decision. It was first announced way back in 2007. It wasn’t well received. Marc Fisher concluded that the sale of the property had more to do with Venture Philanthropy Partners, who advised the club to look at their properties as potential saleable assets, not as ongoing promises to the community.
Notwithstanding the protests, GM thinks that if the community uses Jellef only for its physical plant and doesn’t get much use out of the club’s services maybe it makes sense for the club to move on. The Post reported that Mayor Fenty has budgeted $15 million over the next five years to purchase the property from the club.
But once the city buys the land, what would it do with it, would it sell some of it to developers? Probably not. Consider that back in 2007 Jack Evans even mulled using eminent domain authority to ensure that the property didn’t fall into developers’ hands. At the time he stated ““[a]t the end of the day, we want to keep it as a recreational facility, if that’s the direction we have to take, we can take it.” Additionally, as Fisher pointed out, condo development on the property is unlikely “because the club is subject to historic preservation rules, abuts National Park Service land and lies on top of the city’s main aqueduct. Develop that.”
So in the end, for most Georgetowners Jellef won’t really change that much. The real victims appear to be those 20 or so kids who use the club’s after-school programs.
And that’s really the rub. The one possible hang-up for this whole arrangement is the strong chance that some will complain, whether fairly or not, about the city spending $15 million dollars on facilities mostly used by affluent residents. Particularly if the city doesn’t do the same for the other clubs to be closed (and there’s no indication they will), which are all in less affluent neighborhoods. You can easily imagine the rallying cry: “Why don’t all those rich west-of-the-park soccer moms and dads buy the land themselves if they think it’s so valuable.” While the patrons of Jellef have friends in powerful places, they must be prepared for this often effective line of criticism. Doing so means envisioning a Jellef that is more than just a soccer league headquarters. They must start developing a plan now to continue the Boys and Girls Club’s outreach programs. The land transfer is far from settled and could easily be derailed by a well organized group looking to save their own local club.