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Association Bisnow
May 15, 2008


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Birds gotta fly, charities gotta raise money. So the cool new Trust for the National Mall held its first fundraiser last week, a posh luncheon on the (you guessed it!) Mall for 600 guests. They raised a whopping $625,000 (normally you have to serve dinner for those numbers); on the other hand, they have about $499 million to go to meet their goal over the next 10 years. The Trust, launched in November, is the brainchild of developer Chip Akridge, who saw how shoddy the Mall had become on his morning jogs. It took five years of negotiating to get the National Park Service's support for this 501(c)(3)—and now it's even an official partner.


Trust president Caroline Cunningham with yet another real estate king, Western Development CEO Herb Miller at the luncheon featuring a menu of tomato gazpacho, roasted escolar and strawberry tarts. Caroline tells us "American's Front Yard" gets 25 million unique visitors annually (we thought that we just an Internet term), but will cost a pretty penny to beautify. The Park Service has racked up $350 million in debt to cover maintenance costs, and estimates are it will take another $100 million to add amenities like toilets (there are only 110 in the 700-acre Mall) and $90 million to restore the tidal basin wall protecting the Jefferson Memorial from flooding. Another $2.2 million is needed to update signage, which doesn't mention monuments like the already 13-year-old Korean War Memorial.         


We met up with Caroline yesterday at her Metro Center office for more details. (That's a poster of Mall disrepair behind her, looks pretty real, doesn't it?) The Park Service will complete an 18-month study in late 2008 to determine a road map for renovations, and the Mall will be included in President Bush's $1 billion National Park Centennial Initiative. But the most important thing the Trust could gain from lawmakers is a Presidential Commission for the Mallwhich would launch a federal-fundraising campaign similar to what President Reagan did for the Statue of Liberty in the 1980s. Caroline says the Trust is already seeking support from the Hill, and counts Senators Harry Reid, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton among its 40-member Honorary Committee. Hey, if the Trust can get Clinton and Obama together, anything's possible.            


The Trust's infrastructure is in its infancy, at two employees and four board members (Caroline is one of each). The Trust has received $14,000 post-luncheon (including one $10,000 check) and now has 600 donors. Caroline says she has the resources to begin building a staff, which she'd like to see reach into the dozens. She wants the board to be 12-15, and Warren Buffet is at the top of her list of dream members. Buffet resigned from Coke's board two years ago, so he's available.

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