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July 11, 2007
Albany -- There's controversy over a huge donation to Albany State University. The estate of singer-songwriter Ray Charles wants to know why three million dollars wasn't spent on a Performing Arts Center, as Charles wanted.
It's was the biggest donation ever given to ASU from an individual, but the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center remains in the planning stage short $20 million. ASU says approval for the project has been held up by the Board of Regents and they thought that the money Charles gave was unallocated funds to be used at the University's will. His estate says, that's not the case.
ASU said they have the spot for this building picked out, they've even got design plans and they fully intend to build the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center when they get approval and the money from the state. The Charles estate thinks that's great, but they want to know why two thirds of the funding as gone towards scholarship instead of a fund for the buildings construction.
Before Ray Charles died he got two chances to give back to the community where he was born. He gave Albany State University two checks totaling three million dollars to get their theatre project moving. Now his estate wants to know why that money went to presidential scholarships?
"It was very clearly acknowledged on the check and in the form of thank you letters, Board of Regents resolutions, that that was for the Ray Charles Theatre Arts complex," says Ivan Hoffman VP of Legal Affairs for the Ray Charles estate.
ASU saw it differently. "It's the college's understanding that the gifts were given to us as unrestricted funds, and in return for such a generous gift that we would name the fine arts building, once erected, after Ray Charles," said Sophia Glover, ASU Communications Director.
Albany State says former President Portia Shields communicated with the estate and informed them of the school's intent to use the money for scholarships, but Charles' estate said that's not true, and neither Charles nor his estate would have agreed to that.
"It is incomprehensible that anybody could take the interpretation that Mr. Charles, having expressed the desire to have the theatre arts complex built and the theatre built, would somehow say 'okay, you can take two-thirds of the money that I'm giving you and spend it on something else,'" Hoffman said.
The Charles' estate wants to know why that money wasn't put in a fund to gain interest until the state approved the project. When we asked the same question, ASU's council Nyota Tucker responded.
"We assumed that the foundation was aware of the use that was currently being made and we thought that it was a worthy use of the funds."
The Charles' estate says they want the building-- or their money back. "If the state of Georgia has not seen fit to fund this project it doesn't mean you can take the money and put it somewhere else it means you give us back our money. Either give us the building or give us back the money," said Hoffman.
The Ray Charles Estate has threatened legal action if this matter isn't resolved. Albany State University's legal council says they hope to resolve the matter, and will work with the estate.
ASU said the Board of Regents rejected the proposal during the 2007 session. They plan to again request state funds for the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at the 2008 session.
Over the years, Ray Charles made numerous large charitable donations. The same year he made the donation to ASU, he made another significant contribution to Morehouse College in Atlanta to build a Ray Charles Performing Arts Center and theatre.
The college broke ground on their new center May 18th.
Moorehouse launched a capital campaign for the center after the Charles donation and raised more than $13 million.