Mary Mitchell Center: future uncertain

After it narrowly escaped eviction last month, the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center is in talks with city officials about keeping its Mapes Avenue home.

On Friday, October 1, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, officials with the Department of Education, elected officials, and leaders with the Mary Mitchell center met to discuss a range of possible futures for the center. The options included selling the property at a public auction or possibly reducing the rent the center would need to pay to stay in the city-owned building.

Officials with the DOE, which provides administrative oversight of the building, expect the city will come to a decision soon.

“What we want and what we talked about is how could the city return control of the building to us,” Heidi Hynes, executive director of the Mary Mitchell Center said. “Overall, the city’s position is they want the full monetary value of building. They want it now in terms of fees or in the future, if it were to be sold at an auction, it would be sold at market value.”

For decades the center has been using the building at 2007 Mapes Avenue rent-free, as its headquarters.

However, with the poor economy and city agencies tightening their belts, about a year ago the DOE began asking for organizations to begin paying rent on buildings that were previously provided rent-free.

For the Mary Mitchell Center, that annual fee is $75,000, which goes towards overhead costs like electricity and maintenance.

After several months of talks between the DOE and officials with the center, on Tuesday, September 21 the city locked the doors.

“There are real costs associated with the maintenance of any DOE building, including custodial services and security, and the DOE has covered these costs for the Mary Mitchell Center for many years,” DOE officials said in a statement to the press. “Given the current fiscal reality, we are asking community organizations who have not been paying for these services to begin covering these costs. We informed the Mary Mitchell Center of this over the summer and we granted a temporary waiver on their fees until we can meet with their executive director and local elected officials to determine a long-term payment plan that meets all of our needs.”

DOE officials said the decision to demand the rent is not based on the value of the services the center provides.

For now, the center is back operating out of the headquarters for free, but that comfortable arrangement could be coming to an end very soon.

“If the city insists on us paying, we would reduce the number of hours and cut our services,” Hynessaid.

Although the Mary Mitchell Center opened in 1996, its foundation is closely tied with the building itself, Hynes said.

The group has been providing community programs out of the same building since it was built in the 1980s. According to Hynes, the group led the campaign to have the facility built in the first place.

Hynes said she knew when the DOE took over administering the building in the 1990s that the history of the group and the headquarters would get lost, and that there would come a day when the city would no longer provide the building rent-free.

But she is still hopeful the parties can come to an agreement.

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