The Ray Charles Foundation is demanding the return of a $3 million gift given to Albany State University a decade ago because the organization says the college has yet to use the money to build a performing arts center in the late artist’s name.
In 2001, Charles gave the south Georgia school $1 million and donated another $2 million a year later after receiving an honorary doctorate from the college. The native of Albany, Ga., died in 2004 at age 73.
The money was given solely for the construction of the performing arts center, yet it only exists “on the drawing board and in an unapproved downsized plan,” the foundation said in a statement.
Charles was specific on how the money was to be spent, said foundation president Valerie Ervin.
“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,” she said.
Albany State University spokesman Demetrius Love said the gift was never restricted and that the school continues to pursue additional funding for the building, which is expected to cost at least $23 million.
The 2001 donation still is in a bank and the $2 million gift was given to 125 students chosen to be Ray Charles Presidential Scholars, according to the university. Officials said the donation was the largest gift the university has ever received.
“It has been a long and tedious process, but strides have been made in accomplishing this goal,” Love said in an email statement. “Albany State University will continue in its efforts of honoring Mr. Ray Charles by constructing a fine arts building in his name.”
Plans for the project have stalled in recent years because of a lack of state funding amid budget cuts.
In October, the university’s legal counsel sent a letter to the foundation reiterating their desire to move forward with the building project, which also includes a theater to be named for Charles’ mother. The university has received additional state funding to support the design phase of the building, the letter said.
“When Mr. Charles made the two separate gifts to the University, he did so without restrictions,” the letter reads. “The University does believe that a Fine Arts Building named after Mr. Charles, with a theater 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.”