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Advancement of whom?

Can anyone tell me when community-focused nonprofit Marion Advancement Campaign turned into a small for-profit business incubator?

The youth center, owned by MAC, has evidently gone belly-up, a predictable fate if one paid attention to multiple efforts dating back to the mid-1970s, when I was part of a failed effort to turn the Santa Fe depot into a youth center.

We wrote in June about the temporarily closed youth center’s trials of getting volunteers. At the time, MAC president Todd Heitschmidt said a group of five or six parents were interested in re-opening the center, and that “we’re going to work as fast as possible to make that happen.”

With all due haste, the building re-opened this weekend, but not the youth center. In its place is the Swamp Fox Country Club, a 24-7 for-profit membership social club, complete with bring-your-own-bottle-and-food privileges. The centerpiece of the club, owned by Terry Jones, is a $6,000 golf simulator. With my old legs, simulated golf holds definite appeal.

A rent-free building and only a portion of the utility costs is a good deal for Jones, one any smart entrepreneur should snap up. Use of the donated equipment left behind by the youth center is somewhat less of a good deal — if it didn’t attract youths, it probably won’t attract adults — but Jones may find some to be useful.

I’m not sure why MAC would provide such a dirt-cheap incentive while they’re working hard to raise donations for new bathrooms in Central Park, but that’s for the MAC board to decide. I’d have used the opportunity to rid myself of utility costs altogether, and collected nominal rent to put toward reopening the youth center, which we’re told is still a possibility.

There’s nothing wrong with this arrangement. It’s not unusual for nonprofit organizations to rent space to for-profits, and they’re the ones that set terms that make sense to them.

MAC was formed in 2003 to spearhead the drive to build a new community center and movie theater. When that project foundered, they smartly switched gears and poured funds into renovating the theater at the municipal building into a multipurpose community center. It was a good move; the center is an attractive venue that hosts a variety of events. There’s even been a movie shown there.

While initial efforts around the park bathroom issue were sluggish and unfocused, the much-needed project recently has gained definition and momentum, and this MAC effort looks promising. The youth center is another story, but MAC pulled together the donations that gave the center a chance, and MAC can’t be faulted if there aren’t enough adults to volunteer to staff it.

These are the kind of projects MAC has been about. Projects for the good of the greater community, well-conceived or not, that wouldn’t happen without a focal point for charitable giving.

I hope that remains their focus, that with the urgency expressed in June MAC will work as fast as possible to decide if the youth center will be resurrected in its old home. If they choose to make it a home for budding entrepreneurs, then MAC should look to benefit financially from the arrangement, as other nonprofits do. That keeps the waters clean for potential donors who want to contribute for the good of the community, but may hesitate if they think they’re supporting a new business with their donation.

--david colburn

Last modified Sept. 11, 2014

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