Heinz Center in D.C. faults lack of money in closing

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The H. John Heinz III Center, an environmental memorial to the late Pennsylvania senator, will close at the end of the year because it can't raise enough money for programs, leaders say.

“I'm sorry to inform you that the Heinz Center is winding down its operations and will close its doors at the end of December,” Conn Nugent, president of the Washington-based center, said in an announcement on its website. “It's sad news, for sure, but the disappointment is softened by the very good prospects for relocating Heinz Center staff and the excellent programs that are described on this website.”

Nugent and other Heinz officials could not be reached on Sunday.

“We felt we could raise money, and we can't raise money,” center trustee Melinda Blinken said. She said donors are shying away from groups with names associated with wealth. “Why would they give to Heinz?”

The closing of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment occurs during a time of upheaval at its sister organization, The Heinz Endowments.

Caren Glotfelty, senior director of the environmental program for the Downtown-based Endowments, and its spokesman Doug Root were forced out in August amid criticism from environmentalists about the Endowments becoming a founding partner of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, a joint industry/environmental institute focused on standards for shale gas drilling.

Endowments President Robert Vagt, whose ties to the energy industry added to the complaints, announced his resignation on Oct. 14.

Sources said Andre Heinz, son of the senator, engineered the dismissals of Glotfelty and Root when his mother, Teresa, became ill in July. Teresa Heinz Kerry and Andre Heinz sit on the boards of the Heinz Center and The Heinz Endowments.

“They didn't have a change of heart,” Blinken said. “If (the center) had another name than Heinz, than Jack, who was one of my best friends, it's very difficult to raise money.”

Heinz Kerry set up the Heinz Center in 1995 with an initial grant of $20 million from the Endowments. The foundation has given the center nearly $4.2 million since 2001.

The center focused on the scientific and economic aspects of environmental problems, with a $2.5 million annual budget and eight employees. In a news release, the center cited among its accomplishments its studies on climate change, the impact on coastal zones, fisheries and biodiversity and its work to protect the Amazon forest.

The center has given space, staff or financial support to projects including the Chesapeake Commons, which collects and maps information about the Chesapeake Bay to help scientists and environmental groups; the Bipartisan Initiative to Prevent Breast Cancer, which advocated for more research into environmental causes of breast cancer; and research into conserving plant- and crop-pollinating species such as bees and bats.

Nugent said that its collaborative, scientific-based approach is more expensive and time-consuming than foundations or policymakers have been willing to support.

Blinken expressed concern about the timing of the center's closing.

“At this point in time, nobody's looking at the environment,” she said. “Look at Washington. It's crazy.”

Deborah Callahan, who served as the center's president two years ago, said she did not know it soon would close.

“Financially, it was in decent shape, but did want to find some additional revenue sources,” she said. “It was an organization that was OK.”

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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