Exclusive: Mazzoni to make big move

Huge changes are coming to Mazzoni Center in the next two years: The LGBT health and wellness facility plans to consolidate its locations, move and considerably expand its operations.

In an exclusive interview with PGN, Mazzoni Center CEO Nurit Shein announced that the agency has inked a contract to move its two Gayborhood locations — fusing its medical practice, case-management and other services — into one shared space, at 1328-38 Bainbridge St.

The move is expected to happen in 2017. The new building, at the corner of Broad and Bainbridge streets, is currently empty — after the state welfare office vacated several years ago— and will undergo extensive renovations before the move.

The medical practice, currently located at 809 Locust St., along with the adjoining Walgreen’s pharmacy will make the move, as will all of the operations currently housed at Mazzoni’s 21 S. 12th St. location. The Washington West Project will remain at its current location.

“This is streamlining everything into a one-stop shop,” Shein said. “Patients can come get legal help, case management, medical or behavioral-health services, all in one place.” 

The entire project, being done in partnership with developer Alterra Property Group, LLC, is expected to cost between $13-$14 million.

Shein described the building agreement as a “hybrid of a lease and investment.”

“It will lower the rent and enable us to make decisions as to what the building is going to look like,” she said, noting the contract will guarantee the agency remains in the space for at least 20 years. “We’ve committed to 20 years in that building. We’re going to assure the permanency of Mazzoni Center.”

Shein said the move will cut some overhead and enable the organization to “add more money to our services and programs in the long run.”

Mazzoni’s space will grow from its current 30,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet. The medical practice will double the number of exam rooms from 13-26, will hire more clinicians and start Saturday hours. The number of therapists is expected to grow from 13-20, and Mazzoni will launch an intensive outpatient drug and alcohol program, which Shein noted will be the only one of its kind in the city.

There will be no layoffs associated with the move.

“Only growth,” Shein said.

The new building will include a “town-square space” that Shein said will be used for educational workshops and community events.

Shein said Mazzoni management has been considering a move for the past five years, prompted by steadily increasing demand.

“We’re so cramped and growing, and we’ve been bursting at the seams,” she said. 

The lease on the 12th Street property expires in 2016, Shein added, and the building management was not planning to renew, as they are looking to turn the property into an all-residential space.

Shein said that’s a trend going on throughout Center City.

“Developers in Center City are only developing residential, because they get a much higher rate of return,” she said. “To find a 45,000-square-foot building by itself is about impossible; they’re all part of an office building, or some other entity that’s just swallowed up inside another building. Just like our sister organizations in L.A., Boston, New York and D.C. have their own dedicated building, the same is important for Philadelphia. And just like the [William Way LGBT] community center has its own footprint, having an LGBT wellness building makes a powerful statement about how important LGBT health is to the city of Philadelphia.”

The desire to find a standalone property of that size prompted Mazzoni to look a bit south.

The organization worked with real-estate broker Savills Studley to identify and secure the property.

“Finding a building in this [Washington Square West] neighborhood was pretty much irresponsible moneywise on our part. ‘Center’ City and the Gayborhood have both been moving south in recent years,” Shein said. “The new building is just a half-block off South Street. It’s very close to public transportation; it’ll be very easy for patients and clients to come and go. And all of the development happening on the corner of Washington and Broad is going to make this right in the middle of Center City proper eventually; and right now it’s just a five-minute walk down Broad Street.”

Shein said that, in 1997, the agency — then called Philadelphia Community Health Alternatives — took some criticism for moving from Pine Street to 1201 Chestnut St., where it was located until July 2009 before moving to its current spot on 12th Street.

“People said, ‘Why are you doing this? You’re moving away from our stronghold,’ and we just said, ‘It’ll be OK.’ And everybody followed. Maybe everyone will follow us now too.”

Mazzoni Center senior communications manager Elisabeth Flynn noted that the dissemination of the LGBT community outside of just the Gayborhood enclave also meshes well with the plan.

“It’s a reflection on how the community as a whole has migrated and filled in spaces around the city over the years,” Flynn said. “We’re no longer just confined to one corridor. The LGBT community is interwoven in all parts of the city; and the people we serve come from all over.”

The community could play a role in raising money for the project, but Shein said it’s too early for specific fundraising goals.

“We’re still in the planning stages of how much Mazzoni Center will do, how much the developer will do,” she said. “It’s still too soon to talk about that; we have a year to work that out. And as we work it and turn to the community to support this, we will unveil more about the numbers.”

The next step, Shein said, is Mazzoni working with the developer and the architectural team on renderings.

The building is comprised of two connected spaces, one of which will gain two floors. The finished property will have two floors in one part of the building and four in the other, with passages connecting them.

Construction is estimated to begin in about a year.

Shein said she doesn’t expect the transition to significantly disrupt operations at Mazzoni. 

“We’re not really moving with a lot of furniture; we’re building the furniture there,” Shein said, noting that much of the new space is an “open concept” design, allowing for movable walls to reconfigure rooms or offices over time if need be. “There’s a new modular way of creating space and shifting things when you grow. And the IT will be all ready to go before we move. So I’m hoping at best it’ll just be a few days.” 

Mazzoni Center board president Dr. Jimmy Ruiz welcomed the move.

“In recent years, both the rate at which the Mazzoni Center has grown and the increasing demand for services has made a move absolutely necessary,” Ruiz said. “We went through a lengthy and careful review process and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome.  I believe that this partnership will enable us to build an exceptional home for LGBT health in Philadelphia and align our physical space with our goals as an organization.” 

Newsletter Sign-up