Fraternity plans to move its offices to city by August

March 21, 1991|By Maria Malloryand Edward Gunts

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the nation's oldest black fraternity, whose members include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, New York Mayor David Dinkins and the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has decided to move its headquarters to Baltimore from Chicago by August.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has scheduled a news conference for 3 p.m. today to announce the move, which has been in the works for months.

Alpha Phi Alpha, which has initiated more than 125,000 men since its founding at Cornell University in 1906, plans to complete its move to Baltimore in time for its 85th annual convention, which will bring 3,000 fraternity members to the city Aug. 1-7.

The fraternity employs an administrative staff of 14 and expects to maintain and possibly increase that number following the move.

Its move would be "a tremendous feather in our cap," Larry J. Smith, executive director of the Downtown Office Marketing Task Force of the Baltimore Economic Development Corp., said in an interview before the final decision was made.

In addition, he said, the fraternity's reputation for community service and political activism would make it an important new player in the city.

The relocation also would send a strong message about Baltimore's attractiveness to non-profit organizations and could lead to other moves, Mr. Smith said.

"It's very good from a cultural standpoint to have various groups recognize your city as a good place to carry on their activities," Mr. Smith said.

BEDCO worked with the fraternity's relocation committee and was host for the committee's two site visits to the city.

The fraternity's new home will be Goucher House at 2313 St. Paul St. The 1892 landmark originally served as the residence for John F. Goucher, the first president of the Woman's College of Baltimore, later renamed Goucher College.

The fraternity started looking for a new home after it razed its longtime Chicago headquarters building last year. That structure needed too many costly repairs, said fraternity General President Henry Ponder.

The fraternity has been collecting donations from its members for the past several years, raising about $1 million in cash for the new headquarters, said Dr. Ponder, who is also president of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.

The Alphas had originally planned to rebuild in Chicago, but with the downturn in the nation's real estate market, fraternity officials decided to try to look for a better deal, Dr. Ponder said.

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