Ray Charles Foundation Asks University to Return Gift of $3m

It’s been ten years since the Ray Charles Foundation gave the University of Albany $3 million for a performing arts center. However, with the performing arts center still “on the drawing board,” the foundation has lost patience, and has asked the college to return the money.

In 2001, Charles donated $1 million to the south Georgia school, and gave another $2 million after being awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 2002. Charles died in 2004, aged 73, yet the performing arts center that was supposed to carry his name has never taken off.

In a statement, the Ray Charles Foundation noted that the center exists only “on the drawing board and in an unapproved, downsized plan.” Foundation president Valerie Ervin remarked:

“It is incomprehensible that Albany State University failed to use the money in the manner Mr. Charles wanted. Mr. Charles would find ASU’s behavior unacceptable.”

The college isn’t giving in so easily, however. University of Albany spokesman Demetrius Love insisted no such restrictions had been placed on the donation, and that the school was still seeking extra funds to finish the center, which will cost at least $23 million. Love says:

“It has been a long and tedious process, but strides have been made in accomplishing this goal. Albany State University will continue in its efforts of honoring Mr. Ray Charles by constructing a fine arts building in his name.”

Budget cuts and a consequent shortage of state funding has affected the project, though the college is still determined to carry out the wishes of the late soul singer. In an October 2011 letter, the university’s legal counsel sent a letter to the foundation explaining:

“When Mr. Charles made the two separate gifts to the University, he did so without restrictions. The University does believe that a Fine Arts Building named after Mr. Charles, with a theatre named in honor of Mr. Charles’ mother, Mrs. Aretha Robinson, is one of the ways to do ‘the right thing.’ The University has been working tirelessly towards that goal.”

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