WASHINGTON – After a disappointing year of raising money, the project to build a National Mall memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. (search) enters a critical phase with a looming rival for donors' dollars.
Organizers insist there are plenty of generous people willing to give to both the King project and a proposed National Museum of African American History and Culture (search), which last month got a major boost when President Bush said the building belongs on the mall.
"I do not believe we'll be in direct competition," said Harry Johnson, president of the King Memorial Foundation (search). "I believe there is enough support to make both of them happen."
The King effort took in just over $5 million in 2004, even though goals had exceeded $30 million. Total contributions for the project stand at $35.5 million, barely one-third of the projected cost.
If it cannot reach $67 million by next January, the project will not have enough money to break ground, as scheduled, in 2006 and keep to its projected 2008 opening.
Johnson said the foundation has "turbocharged" its money-raising efforts with public service announcements featuring Oscar-winning actors Morgan Freeman (search) and Halle Berry (search). It also enlisted the National Basketball Association as part of the promotional campaign.
"We're coming out of the quiet phase of the campaign, going into our public phase," Johnson said.
Most of the money raised so far has come from high-dollar corporate donors, including $10 million from General Motors, $9 million from Ad Council, $5 million from designer Tommy Hilfiger, $1.1 million from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (search) and $1 million from Fannie Mae, the mortgage company.
GM spokesman Edd Snyder said company officials are not concerned, noting that memorials to President Franklin Roosevelt and Holocaust victims ran into numerous snags and delays.
"If you take any of those memorials, they have all had extensions or movement," Snyder said. "I guess it's a matter of course."
This year could be the last in which the King project does not face the prospect of going head-to-head with the black history museum for dollars.
The museum project is operating with just $3.5 million from the government and no full-time director or staff. An engineering firm is studying four possible sites for the museum, one of which will likely be picked early next year. After that, fund-raising efforts figure to get more aggressive.
"It is moving," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights leader who has sought the building. "There's strong bipartisan support for the museum. It's going to happen. We just have to raise the money."
At least one company has agreed to help fund both the museum and memorial. In 2002, Columbus, Ga.-based insurer AFLAC Inc. was the first major donor to the black history museum, giving $1 million to the presidential commission then studying possible sites.
Johnson said AFLAC also recently pledged an undisclosed amount for the King Memorial, as did Bank of America and Proctor & Gamble.
The landscaped memorial would cover a four-acre triangle on the shore of the Tidal Basin (search), between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and next to the FDR Memorial. It would include an elevated walkway overlooking the basin, a huge stone marker in King's likeness and numerous oak, pine, magnolia and cherry trees.
"We're moving forward," said Paul Devrouax, one of the architects for the project. "From an architecture standpoint, as long as my client is asking us to continue to do work, we will continue to do work."