Beginning January 2011, GMHC’s main location will be at 450 West 33rd Street.
For the past 14 years and 6 months, we have been in our current location at 119 West 24th Street, where we rent 150,000 square feet of space. Our 15-year lease expires on December 31, 2010.
After negotiating in good faith with our current landlord, a renewal of the current lease would increase our average annual occupancy expense by at least 33%, and still retain all the risks and expenses associated with operating and maintaining the building. In addition, our landlord has not agreed to customary courtesies associated with lease renewal, thus increasing the cost of renewal even more.
GMHC’s Board of Directors began the search for new space with the formation of a Real Estate Committee in December 2007. A real estate broker was hired in March 2008 and a design team in May 2008. More than 40 properties have been reviewed, over half of those were toured, and at least six were actively negotiated. Ultimately, the other property owners either decided GMHC was not a good fit or could not deliver the space to meet the 12/31/10 timeline. During the process we learned that many multi-tenanted, commercial buildings in New York City are unable or unwilling to accommodate usage different from typical office use (such as medical testing).
Over the past year, Dr. Marjorie Hill, Board Co-Chairs and the Real Estate Chair have provided regular briefings for the Board and occasional briefings for clients, the Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) and GMHC staff. Briefings with clients and the CAB occurred as early as 3/12/08 and have included meetings with Dr. Hill, the Board Co-Chairs and the Real Estate Chair. The most recent Co-Chair meeting was on 4/30. The Real Estate Chair presented to the CAB on 12/10/2009 and received a positive response. The presentation included information about the status of meals and medical services in the new location. The CAB met with the full board on Thursday, May 20. The meeting resulted in a thoughtful and helpful conversation between clients and the board that helped to understand client concerns and to clarify misinformation. Additionally, senior staff, Board Co-Chair and Real Estate Chair have been in contact with and provided updates to our partners at our current co-located medical facility.
GMHC will continue to offer a comprehensive array of services to our HIV-positive clients in our main offices. Nutrition, Legal and Mental Health Services, Case Management, Housing Support, Vocational Training, Prevention Education, and GED programs will continue with enhanced coordination as the new space provides increased efficiencies and collaborative work environments.
For the past 15 years, GMHC has benefited from having New York Presbyterian co-located with us on West 24th Street. While only a small number of our clients (fewer than 200) use those services, for each of those individuals this is a critical component of their medical care and we are committed to assisting them with the continuation of their care. We are currently searching in the Chelsea area for a location that will allow us to continue this long-standing and successful partnership with New York Presbyterian. But overall, GMHC has a 70% connection-to-care rate for persons who test positive and get into medical treatment. And while some of our clients use New York Presbyterian, most select their medical provider from a wide list of providers including Callen-Lorde, Bellevue and facilities outside of Manhattan.
In the coming months we will work with all of our clients to ensure that this move does not interrupt their vitally important connection to medical care.
HIV testing is a core GMHC service. We will expand HIV testing by creating a Prevention and Wellness Center at a separate location that will be the hub of our Testing and Education Programs. Offering such services at a site different from our main headquarters is not a new concept — Planned Parenthood, AIDS Project Los Angeles and San Francisco AIDS Foundation all have successful HIV testing satellite programs. This will allow for our high-risk HIV-negative clients to become engaged in educational, support and prevention services that include testing, but do not rely on testing only.
GMHC is currently open Monday – Friday, 10:00 am – 9:00 pm. Our new location will allow us to resume Saturday programming for working clients and family members, and design additional later evening programming for youth. At our present location, costs prohibit us from providing weekend services, and the move will allow us to serve more people.
The GMHC Meals Program — a critical component of our service to hundreds of our clients — will continue to provide hot, nutritious and balanced meals. While there are some challenges to replacing the industrial kitchen we have at 24th street with one that fits the restrictions at our new location, there will be minimal impact to our ability to deliver fully nutritional and satisfying meals to the hundreds of New Yorkers that rely on us — including our Friday night meal service. The move also allows for us to create a larger, more comfortable and attractive dining room. And while we are very proud of the atmosphere we have created in the dining room at 24th Street, that space is long overdue for refurbishing. Additionally, the new location will allow us to expand our Food Pantry Program — thus providing more food to needy New Yorkers (thanks, in part, to the generosity of the Keith Haring Foundation).
GMHC will have a private entrance at 440 33rd Street. Only a few of the potential locations could offer this option. Having a private entrance, for staff, clients, volunteers and visitors is very helpful, especially in our transition from being the sole tenant in our current location to one of many.
GMHC would never place our people in harm’s way. While every construction site raises potential concerns, no construction site is allowed to endanger the health of those who live or work around it. The Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Hudson Yards, prepared by the City of New York, states that the construction site will not result in any significant air quality impact or adverse impact on hazardous materials. The City Department of Buildings, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Health all have strict guidelines that apply to construction work and are empowered to shut down any site that is out of compliance. In the case of Hudson Yards, City departments will be conducting regular inspections on their own. But any affected individual may complain to the City about environmental conditions and GMHC will be the first to complain if we have any indication that an area construction job is endangering anyone’s health.
We will assign staff to monitor these conditions and encourage clients and staff as individuals to complain if they have any indication that a local site is out of compliance.
Additionally, as anyone knows about our current elevator situation, this private entrance with our own elevator will reduce the stress for clients around wait time. This entrance will be staffed by GMHC employees who are specifically trained to assist our clients and those seeking assistance from GMHC.
While the new home may not be as convenient to some clients we are making every attempt to remove that as an obstacle. The closest subway system (A, C, E) is two cross-town blocks away (approximately 5–6 city blocks) from the new location. The 1, 2, 3 lines are 0.4 miles away compared to 0.2 miles at the current 24th Street location. The D, F, B, N, R lines are four cross-town blocks. While the 34th Street cross-town bus will assist clients in getting to GMHC from these subway lines, for many clients the new location will require them to walk farther than at the current location. We are very sensitive and aware of this challenge. Many of our clients will have no problem using the available public transportation system and many will continue to use Access-A-Ride. To assure that all of our clients are served, we are pursuing additional transportation options through a shuttle service.
We are not the only social service organization in the new neighborhood. The Young Adult Institute for people with developmental disabilities has been at 460 W. 34th Street for decades. The Metropolitan Community Church of New York at 446 W. 36th St. serves not only its congregants there but runs a food pantry for the homeless and a homeless shelter for LGBT youth.