Detroit Nonprofits Protest Derailed Salvation Army Community Center Plans

The recent decision by the Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division to scrap its planned $98 million Kroc Community Center on Detroit's east side has generated protest and anger within the city's nonprofit community, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The national Salvation Army announced in early 2007 that it would put up $50 million for the center as part of the $1.6 billion bequest from Joan Kroc, the late wife of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, if the local Salvation Army chapter raised an additional $48 million by 2012. Last week, however, the chapter announced that it would give up on the Kroc Center plan and instead focus on building a smaller facility that offered some of the same services by 2010.

Local Salvation Army leader Norm Marshall said the planned center, with its elaborate educational classrooms, water-sports facilities, and 100,000-square-foot size, may have confused potential donors who saw it as conflicting with the organization's traditional mission of serving the hungry and homeless. According to the Free Press, internal strife contributed additional challenges, exacerbated by the group's Detroit-area fundraising director, Russ Russell, being fired in the midst of the Kroc campaign and later suing the organization.

Still, several local nonprofits have said the Kroc Center plans should move forward and have formed a coalition to lobby the Salvation Army to reverse the cancellation, pointing to planned Kroc centers in at least three other cities that are moving ahead successfully, despite the economic downturn.

"With the right kind of internal management, strategic partnerships, and leadership with others outside the Salvation Army," said Maggie DeSantis, president of coalition member Warren/Conner Development Corporation, "a Kroc Center is doable, despite the harsh economy."

John Gallagher. "Strife at Salvation Army Derailed Detroit Community Center." Detroit Free Press 04/27/2009.