Metro Weekly

Step Back from Stead Park

A Town Square Opinon: Responses to Patrick Mensasco's plans for a gay community center in DC

As a longtime Dupont Circle resident with a view of Stead Park from my living room, I would probably be a regular visitor to a GLBT community center if it were built there (“Finding the Center,” 7/15/04). But unlike the Jewish Community Center, the proposed new center involves the effective privatization of a public asset. What is the problem for which this is the solution?

The Center’s plan includes office and meeting space as well as a theater, a gym, and a computer lab — something for everyone, like a congressional spending bill. But the neighborhood already has meeting space, theaters, gyms, and an Internet café. Center president Patrick Menasco claims the proposed parking garage “will help alleviate congestion in the street.” But with all the events it would host, the Center would be just as likely to add congestion.

Menasco assures us that the Center will tap new charitable sources rather than existing ones, without offering any evidence. As for rents, why would groups pay for space when they already meet elsewhere for free? Menasco states that gays throughout the Metro area could benefit from “an information clearinghouse on the web.” Fine, but that requires no real estate.

The Center would be first in line for a park already serving a variety of groups, in an area with few sports fields. This one should not be sidelined for years while a Center is built.

Menasco says, “We need…a place for people to live their lives normally — to recreate, to socialize, to pursue their artistic and educational desires.” But we do have such a place — it’s called Washington, D.C.

Menasco implies that without “The Center” there will be no gay community, that somehow our greater integration into the wider community leaves us weaker. How preposterous. Such an ambitious project, with the skids being greased by District officials, would be hard to imagine if its proponents were not highly successful and well-connected. This is not about defending us, it is about patronage and pork.

Menasco says, “It’s much cheaper for us to lease property from the city for a hundred dollars a year than it is for us to pay five million dollars for a much smaller space.” Well, yes, but why should the city hand over such a valuable property to one of the most prosperous communities in town? Call it Bourgeois Welfare.

The city has unmet needs that should take precedence in a time of tight budgets, in addition to the park’s existing stakeholders. Councilmember Jim Graham told The InTowner that it was the responsibility of the Center to obtain the support of neighborhood groups and the ANC. He is right. As a neighbor of Stead Park who respects and values all of my neighbors, I urge the ANC and District officials to say no to this unnecessary and selfish proposal.

Richard J. Rosendall
Washington, D.C.

In your excellent interview with Patrick Menasco he said he didn’t know of many skeptics with regard to the need for a Community Center. We can point him to many. But the issue now appears to be to separate building a Community Center, from the issue of placing it in Stead Park.

What Menasco may be doing with his attempted end run around the major community organizations is making this a gay vs. straight issue, which it is not. There are just as many gay people as straight people opposed to putting this Center in Stead Park. Menasco recently stated that he anticipates that the proposed lease he drafted for Stead Park will be signed before the end of the summer. Neil Albert, former Director of Parks and Recreation, now Deputy Mayor for Children and Youth, categorically stated last week that there will be no lease signed, or even contemplated, before the entire community — including the ANC, Dupont Circle Citizens Association, community residents and groups like the Friends of Stead Park — can be heard from. Menasco may want to look at the recent public response to taking a few feet of space from R Street for the Ross elementary school playground expansion project, to see that the Center’s chances of ever getting this approved are close to zero. He also ignores the Historic Preservation Review Board which is about to recommend that the current recreation center building in Stead Park, built in 1878, be declared a historic building. This will prevent it from being torn down and will effectively kill the proposal for a Center in the Park.

Menasco doesn’t address the reasons that three previous GLBT community centers in this City have failed.  He states that the planners of those Centers didn’t think big enough. The reality of the current plan is that there is no detailed plan, or real knowledge of who will use it. Rather, just a three-year-old survey indicating generally good feeling about a center.

If those willing to give $15 million for a GLBT Center are intent on moving ahead with a building, there is other space, some even District-owned, on which they could build. But we urge them to consider that $15 million would fund a few years of the Mautner Project and SMYAL, a year of the Food and Friends budget, and still have enough left over to provide years of needed programs for our GLBT youth.

We don’t believe turning this into a gay vs. straight issue or an up or down vote on the GLBT Center totally based on it being in Stead Park is good for either the GLBT Center or the community.

We believe the Center will never be built in Stead Park, but the Center leadership could still convince the many skeptics of the need for a center, if they separate the issues and move on to look at other, more realistic sites.

Peter D. Rosenstein
Vincent Micone
Washington, D.C.

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