The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), as it embarks on a $9.8 million project to acquire ownership of the three-story building at 2301 Mission St., is spearheading an even bigger move.
It’s bringing along three “similarly driven” organizations – Caminos Pathways Learning Center, the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center, and the Mission Asset Fund – and is looking for more neighbors. With 35 percent of its space still available, the 21,000 sq. ft. building has room for up to four more agencies.
“We’re going to use the building to leverage as a community building tool,” said Joshua Low, MEDA’s capital campaign program manager. “Its hallmark will be service integration.”
The four organizations will occupy the newly-named Plaza Adelante in the next few weeks and have already signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the ways in which they will work together. This will include developing referral mechanisms between the agencies, sharing outcomes, creating a common intake form, and combining relevant programs.
“The goal is to find some synergies and provide better services to our clients,” said José Quiñonez, executive director of the Mission Asset Fund. Although, he does express some concern about the expected increase in foot traffic given the location of the building along the Mission corridor.
“When more and more people know of what we do, precisely when the resources to provide these programs are less, we’re going to be in a weird situation,” he said.
On the flip side, Quiñonez recognizes that a growing need from the community can strengthen the organization’s arguments in securing more city funding.
“If we show more demand, that should say something,” he said, “and I think being in the building will put us in the path.”
Conversations about the project began almost two years ago. Armed with a new strategic plan aimed at broadening their scope and providing the community with asset building skills, MEDA sought ownership of a space that would allow their work to go above and beyond and most importantly, to go uninterrupted.
“It’s difficult to be a tenant when you can’t control your own destiny,” said Rosabella Safont, MEDA’s associate director who was a board member when the organization leased the entire ninth floor of the once prestigious Bay View Bank building on Mission Street 10 years ago.
MEDA was one of the more than 20 tenants – the majority being small businesses – at the Bay View Bank building that weren’t allowed to renew their lease when it came due. After a two-month search, MEDA settled for their current location on the second floor at 3505 20th St., where they have resided for the last nine years.
“To take time away from your work, to figure out how much it’s going to cost, that was horrendous and that was so expensive,” said Safont of the relocation process.
Although MEDA was fortunate enough to find a new space in the Mission (“A lot of them went out of business,” Safont said of the small businesses who weren’t so fortunate), their relationship with the current landlord has been short of ideal. According to Safont, they’ve gone through periods with no heat, no water, and spent about a year and a half on stilts as the property owner had the first floor gutted.
“We know a lot of nonprofits have to face a lot of situations when they’re in places that are not suitable and are difficult for clients to get to,” said Safont, “and we don’t want to be in that situation again.”
The motivation behind Plaza Adelante is reminiscent of that of Centro del Pueblo, the only other nonprofit hub of its kind located in the Mission, or anywhere else in San Francisco for that matter, according to Alfredo Meza, the director of operations for Centro del Pueblo.
Twenty years ago, five of the 10 nonprofits that now reside in the 35,000 sq. ft. building – among them La Raza Centro Legal, Mission Housing Development Corporation, and Mission Learning Center – joined forces to purchase a building that would “serve as a one stop center for the multiple needs of the community at low or no cost.” That, and the increasing cost of leasing office space coupled with the rising costs of providing services amidst funding constraints seriously threatened the organizations’ ability do their job.
“We couldn’t let that happen,” Meza said. “The community needs us.”
The $2 million project has worked very well, according to Meza, as they lease their offices at below market rate and provide services to 35,000-40,000 people a year, the majority of their clients being Latino. Meza is looking forward to the fruition of MEDA’s plans.
“It only reinforces the willingness of the community at large and local leaders to support and protect and defend everything we have achieved in the past,” he said. “It’s a great welcome addition.”
MEDA is currently the sole proprietor of Plaza Adelante, but plans to refinance and extend ownership opportunities to the other agencies after the first loans on the property are paid off in seven years.
“It’s definitely an ambitious project,” said Low, the capital campaign manager. MEDA has had to absorb most of the up front costs in acquiring and renovating the property, but with the hope that they will be successful in raising funds and maintaining full tenancy of the building.
Despite the unstable economic climate, “MEDA is in a position to grow,” added Low, as the organization receives funding from the City of San Francisco, banks, and private foundations.
“It’s a beautiful space and it will be a good community center in the heart of the Mission,” said Quiñonez from Mission Asset Fund.
Construction is in its final stages and the grand opening at Plaza Adelante is scheduled for March 6.
“We really can’t wait for the grand opening and the reality of our vision,” said Safont, “at least the beginning of it.”