By Nick Diamantides
Expressing shock at the Salvation Army’s seemingly sudden decision to abandon plans to develop a Kroc Center in Long Beach, government leaders in that city and Signal Hill said they would do whatever it takes to reverse that decision and start moving the plans forward again.
In a letter received by the City of Long Beach on Tuesday, the Western Territory Salvation Army’s Board of Directors said they had determined that developing a Kroc Center in Long Beach was no longer feasible, due to the failure to raise the necessary funds, and increases in the development’s costs and insurance.
In response to the letter from the Board, the City of Long Beach issued the following statement: “The City is deeply disappointed by the action taken by the Salvation Army Board of Directors. We are surprised the Army decided to abandon the Kroc Center Project; this is the first we heard that the project is in jeopardy. None of the issues raised are insurmountable, and there are solutions available to resolve all the outstanding issues. The City will not give up on this project and will pursue discussions at the highest level within the Army.”
Mayor Bob Foster added the following to the letter: “We are all stunned by this announcement. It is very frustrating that the issues enunciated in the termination letter are technical in nature and do not rise to a level that would merit this dramatic of an action. 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. After all the time, effort and energy that went into this, professionalism would warrant a high-level conversation in an effort to remedy those concerns.”
Planning for the project began about four years ago when the Salvation Army USA Western Territory announced that Long Beach was selected as the site of a new 19-acre Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. It was to be located at the corner of PCH and Walnut, across the street from Long Beach City College, and it was planned as one of six centers in the Western Territory that would be built to provide family support, educational, recreational and cultural-arts activities for members of the community.
Most of the funding for the centers comes from Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald’s restaurants founder Ray Kroc. Upon her death in 2003, she bequeathed $1.6 billion to the Salvation Army solely for the purpose of establishing Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Centers throughout the United States. The Long Beach area Salvation Army was hoping to get a portion of that endowment.
Plans for the Long Beach center included a performing arts center with a music conservatory that would offer musical education and training to children beginning at a very young age. Among many other features and programs, the campus was also to contain a 16,000 square-foot chapel/auditorium, a dance studio, a 25-meter warm-up pool, a recreation pool with a slide and fountains, an indoor warm-water therapy pool, a 50-meter pool, an 80,000-square-foot gymnasium, and a wide array of other recreational facilities.
In early 2009, Salvation Army Major Glen Madsen told the Signal Tribune that the local Salvation Army needed to raise $25 million before it could receive the Kroc funding which amounted to $76 million. “The Salvation Army has another approximately $23 million in local assets that we are putting toward this project,” he said. “That will bring it up to $124 million.”
Raising the $25 million was not an easy task after the economic recession hit. In fact, by early 2010, the local Salvation Army had received about $10 million in donations for the project– $15 million short of the amount required by the Kroc bequeathment.
To help secure that amount, just last month, at the request of Councilmembers Dee Andrews and Rae Gabelich, the Long Beach City Council unanimously approved the formation of a Kroc Center Red Team. Patterned after the Red Team that helped save Boeing C-17 production in Long Beach, the group was preparing to initiate a major fundraising effort when news came that the Salvation Army was abandoning its plan for the local center.
“I am a runner. When you are in a relay team, you run hard until you reach that last lap,” Andrews said. “The Kroc Center Red Team was created to sprint to the finish line. I would like the Salvation Army to come back to the relay team and let’s go to the finish line together.” Andrews said he would do everything in his power to persuade the Salvation Army to come back to the table and deal with the issues that led to the decision to abandon plans for the center. “After working diligently to bring this project to fruition, I was surprised (by the) letter from the Western Territory Salvation Army’s Board of Directors,” Gabelich added. “I invite the Salvation Army to come back to the table and allow us to resolve these issues.”
Signal Hill Mayor Ed Wilson also expressed his disappointment. “Everyone’s hopes were really high for having that facility and, when you think of all the work that has gone into it on the city, county, and state level to move this project forward, it is really heart-wrenching news to hear,” he said. “But nothing is over until it’s over, so lets keep up the good fight and see what we can do.”
Signal Hill City Councilman Mike Noll agreed with Wilson. “I have been involved with it. I’ve been to many meetings, and we were looking forward to working with them as a city,” he said. “I think it is devastating for the kids that could benefit from this.”
Madsen did not immediately return phone messages left by the Signal Tribune, but Evan Lamont, Salvation Army media representative, said the local Salvation Army officials were blindsided by the decision of the Western Territory Board of Directors. “It was a very quick judgment without giving the city an opportunity to overcome the issues,” he said. “We are planning on getting some very high-level people over to territorial headquarters to see what we can do.”