center remains on track
by Matthew S. Bajko
As it grapples with the pending loss of a major fundraising event in 2014, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation continues to move forward with plans to build a health and wellness center in the Castro.
The agency announced in October that it had signed a 10-year lease for 474 Castro Street in order to combine three of its programs under one roof – Magnet, Stonewall Project, and Stop AIDS Project – as well as expand services. SFAF executives estimate they need to raise at least $7 million for the project.
What was not publicly known at the time of the announcement was that the founder of AIDS Walk San Francisco had informed SFAF – the lead beneficiary of the fundraiser since its inception 25 years ago – that he plans to part ways with the agency following the 2013 event. As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a December 13 article, MZA Events owner Craig R. Miller asked Project Inform to be the lead agency for the 2014 AIDS Walk.
While the amount has varied due to the success of the event, the walk has contributed roughly $650,000 to SFAF's operating budget in recent years. The agency is now trying to determine how to make up the fiscal hit from losing the walk in two years.
The monetary challenge Miller's decision has presented SFAF is not hampering its plans to open the health and wellness center in the heart of the city's LGBT district, SFAF CEO Neil Giuliano told the B.A.R.
"We are full steam ahead with our Castro plans," said Giuliano. "We are bringing three strong brands into a new home for health and wellness."
The agency is currently developing a capital campaign it expects to launch sometime in early 2013 to begin raising the funds needed for construction on the site, which has housed a video rental store that is going out of business, as well as lease payments over the next decade. The larger storefront is costing SFAF upwards of $170,000 more a year in rent than the three current sites that now house its programs in the Castro.
SFAF is also trying to complete its plans for the space in order to begin the permit approval process with various city agencies. As of now it does not know when it will be ready to present the final plans to neighborhood groups or the Planning Commission, though SFAF has said it wants to be in the space by October 2013.
"We are not at that point yet. We are working very quickly to move that process forward," SFAF spokesman James Loduca said this week.
One key question the AIDS foundation is trying to answer is what to call the new home for its programs. It is engaging various stakeholders, from staffers and board members to clients and community members, in order to come up with an answer.
"We are undergoing a branding exercise right now to look at what the new home of health and wellness will be called. No decision has been made yet," said Giuliano. "It is a unique brand question we are studying right now. Next summer we should have an answer to what the new space will be called."
The gay men's health center Magnet, the substance use reduction program Stonewall Project, and the HIV prevention agency Stop AIDS Project had all been stand alone agencies with their own brand names and identities prior to merging with SFAF.
Once the three programs are relocated into one space it is unclear if they will lose their individual names. Asked about such a possibility, Loduca acknowledged that is being discussed.
"All of those questions are part of this branding exercise," he said. "Really, the focus isn't on the name. It really is more about assuring the thousands of community members who rely on our services that we are going to still be here for them."