Carroll charities offered free space

Ga. foundation quietly plans building to provide offices for local nonprofits

October 05, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare and Jennifer McMenamin | Mary Gail Hare and Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A publicity-shy charity with headquarters hundreds of miles from Maryland is quietly working on plans to build an office building in Carroll County that would provide rent-free space for area nonprofit organizations.

The Georgia-based foundation has met behind the scenes for several months with Carroll charitable groups and government officials to determine how it could help serve the county's needy.

Avoiding public meeting agendas and stressing the importance of proceeding with discretion, the nonprofit Anverse Inc. foundation has come up with a preliminary plan to donate space for groups such as Head Start and the Community Foundation of Carroll County.

Anverse's tentative plans include a three-story, 37,000-square-foot building on land it bought last year in a Westminster business park, Anverse officials confirmed late last week.

Many in Carroll's charitable community said they were unsure why a multimillion-dollar foundation in another state would be willing to invest in helping people here.

"Who knows why people with money do things?" said Audrey Cimino, director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County. "Maybe they just want to pay the community back. I am willing to believe that is why they are doing all this."

A review of tax returns filed by Anverse shows that it is essentially funded by proceeds from the sale of Prestige Communications of NC Inc. - a company that held the cable franchise for Carroll County for 16 years.

"We were in business there for a long time, and this is our way of giving back," said Marty Sonenshine, executive director of Anverse and formerly vice president for operations at Prestige Cable TV Inc.

Based in Cartersville, Ga., Anverse is the country's eighth-largest grant-making operating foundation, based on its assets of $204.2 million in 2001, the most recent year for which rankings were available, according to the Washington-based Foundation Center. Anverse reported assets of $169.8 million last year.

Of the 60,000 foundations nationwide, the vast majority are non-operating foundations, which primarily distribute money to organizations that do charitable work, said Andrew Schulz, deputy general counsel of the Council on Foundations.

Less common, he said, are operating foundations - like Anverse and some nonprofit groups running museums, schools, health care facilities, homeless shelters and soup kitchens - that use nearly all their money to run their own charitable programs.

Anverse bought a 3.15-acre parcel on Clifton Boulevard in Westminster last year for $690,000, according to the state tax assessment records. The property is in the Englar Business Park near the Westminster Wal-Mart.

The expenditure apparently is included in the $871,317 that the foundation reported on its 2002 tax return as expenses for the purchase of land and initial planning for a "non-profit center in Westminster."

Sonenshine said plans for the Westminster center are in the informal stage but "will probably go forward."

The foundation has yet to hire architects or engineers, but it has one employee in Westminster who has met with city officials and with community organizations, Sonenshine confirmed. He said Anverse has not set a budget for the project.

Cimino, director of the umbrella charitable organization, said she has seen a draft plan for the center that includes a meeting room and a grant research library for organizations that typically have little access to professional advisers, accountants and lawyers.

"Nearly all those contacted said space was the biggest need," said Cimino, who assisted the foundation's Westminster office director, Mark Krider, in surveying county charities. "Most never had `our place.'

"Rent is a big thing for these small nonprofits, and it often limits the money they have to spend on programs," she said.

The Westminster Head Start program, which is being pushed out of several county schools that need space for growing enrollments, might occupy the first floor of the new building. Sister Nancy Stiles, county Head Start director, said she has drawings from Anverse that detail six classrooms, offices and a kitchen in the new building.

Krider said, "Our research showed us that nonprofits here need space. We can offer that with this building. But the rent money these agencies save has to go back into the community."

Most of Anverse's capital came from its ownership of more than 4,000 shares of stock in Prestige Communications, valued at $191.1 million, according to Anverse's 2001 tax return. In July 2000, Prestige Communications of NC Inc. and its 118,250 subscriber accounts in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland were sold to Adelphia for about $700 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Most of the money Anverse has handed out has gone to groups in its home state of Georgia, including after-school programs, a homeless shelter, children's camps and a nearly $30 million cultural center devoted to Western art.

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