Money push on for Dudley center

The Salvation Army met last week with some of the city's leading business executives in an attempt to gather the necessary money they need before they break the ground on a $105 million community center project on Dudley Street. The proposed Ray and Joan Kroc center to be built on land that has been cleared at the corner of Clifton Street will be the largest facility of its kind in the neighborhood and would transform a currently forlorn stretch of the Dudley corridor.

"We have to raise about $20 million before we can put a shovel on the ground," Major Raphael Jackson of the Salvation Army said in a phone interview. "We're cautiously optimistic, hoping that it will come because we really don't want to wait. If we slow down or change our plans it means less of a community center for these kids."

Jackson and the Salvation Army say they are slowly losing the value of the $85 million Kroc family donation, due to inflation and devaluing of the dollar, meaning the longer it takes them to get to building the less they really can afford.

"Every day that we don't get going it takes out of the value of the money we have, ergo the product we can produce, isn't as great," he said.

The recent gathering was an attempt to get donations from some of the leading businesses in the area, including the Boston Foundation, the Flatley Companies, Liberty Mutual Group, and Sovereign Bank. Jackson explained that while many of the people at the meeting were simply representatives for the companies and not authorized to sign checks, they did get half million dollars in two commitments, as well as a promise from Thomas Flatley, president of the Flatley Company.

"Flately made a commitment that any donations that came to fruition through this event, he would match by twenty percent," Jackson said. "These men have committed a lot of money."

The final tally is yet to be in from that night but the Salvation Army was anticipating a need to continue fundraising.

The 90,000 square foot site has already faced some serious changes because of the delay in building. Originally slated to start last spring, construction will now be pushed off until November or December, said Jackson. That lapse has cost the Kroc Center its child day care program, and, for the time being, its soccer field.

"We have to cut the day care center. We feel that since our day care center isn't a huge day care center, it would be more advantageous for us to have a place that other day care centers can use, rather than having our own," said Jackson, who still picked out the positives from the cut. "It's encouraging us for a level of collaboration."

The original plans for the center had called for day-care services for up to 40 toddlers, from ages two years, nine months, up until the age of five. It was to be opened and staffed all day every day, a cost the Salvation Army decided was not worth paying with the sacrifice of some of its other programs.

"Joan Kroc wanted something with a wow factor, something that wasn't just typical of what the Salvation Army does, wasn't just four walls," Jackson said of the legacy left by the family that ran McDonalds. "We had the architect dream and now we are running into reality. We have to do something that we can financially build, so maybe a couple of the fancy things that were there are now being removed."

The second major removal is something that Jackson stressed is not a permanent cut at this point, since the Salvation Army will still be the owner of the land. The $2.5 million soccer field planned for across the street has temporarily been removed from the budget, due to safety concerns about the site being above the grade of the roadway. But the Salvation Army will continue to work on achieving that goal, maybe at a later stage of the development of the Dudley Street site. The planners decided that $2.5 million could be spent more wisely on the rest of the project and might try and get someone to sponsor the field and buy the naming rights.

Once the final $20 million or so is raised, builders and contractors are telling the Salvation Army it will take roughly 18-20 months to build the Kroc facility. Jackson said they are cautious with that estimate, but would certainly love to see it done as soon as possible. All of it, he says, comes down to the money.

"The fundraising is the big step, and we have pretty much zeroed down and we are waiting for new numbers and we are hoping that after all of these cuts it will be something that we can live with," he said. "We are moving forward with the expectations pretty high."