Spring Still the Target for King Memorial

Posted January 16, 2008 at 5:00pm

The foundation overseeing the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that will be built on the National Mall to honor the civil rights leader year-round is anticipating construction to begin this spring. But the organization still needs to raise $13 million and obtain the approval of several federal agencies before construction can begin.

Harry Johnson, the president and CEO of the foundation overseeing the monument, said that fundraising is on track, but there are several steps before the plans are approved.

“Our timeline has been the spring and it may be a little aggressive and a little eager,” he said.

In order for construction to begin, the foundation’s plan must be approved by the National Capital Planning Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Park Service. The foundation must also guarantee that it has raised $100 million through certified bank accounts, said Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

Lisa MacSpadden, the director of public affairs at the NCPC, said first-time applicants often are surprised at the amount of time it takes before construction can begin on the National Mall.

“It’s not due to the length of the review process necessarily, but the time it takes to raise the funds,” MacSpadden said.

Line said the foundation may not be ready to begin construction this spring.

“There’s a process in place that applies to any other addition to the National Mall,” Line said, “[and] they have not gone through the process.”

Johnson said he thinks his timeline is “very realistic,” but added: “ I don’t work at the park service, though.”

“All along we’ve been aggressive and we’re going to stay aggressive,” Johnson said.

The National Memorial Project Foundation Inc., a private foundation, has raised $87 million so far. Some of the major contributors to date include General Motors, the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation and the NBA.

The foundation also has received contributions from individuals through online donations, Johnson said.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve raised $87 million,” he said. “Fundraising is on track and it’s doing well.”

Johnson said the King Memorial is an important addition to the National Mall. “I think for those in D.C. who always go to the Mall … they are now going to see a man of color and a man of peace on the Mall.”

Mark Greek, the photo archivist at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, also said the memorial on the National Mall is a necessary tribute.

Meanwhile, Greek has compiled his own King memorial exhibit in the first floor windows of the MLK Library at 901 G St. NW that includes inspirational quotations and photographs of the civil rights leader.

“It’s just a nice way of publicizing our [collection] and this building being named after him. It’s just a great way to honor his image,” Greek said.

The exhibit, which went up Tuesday in time for the Jan. 21 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, is slated to come down in the beginning of March, but Greek said he hopes to make the photographs and quotations a permanent addition to the MLK Library in order to add to the District’s tribute to King.